Larger than life
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Downtown Fort Wayne and its surrounding areas have latched onto a new trend: large, colorful murals on the facades of buildings usually frequented by plenty of foot traffic. There are several on your walk through the alley to Pint & Slice, and you can find Matt Plett’s expansive piece “Breathe” in another alley off Wayne Street.
With the ongoing update to the riverfront, other areas are receiving a vibrant upgrade as well.
Jerrod Tobias and his wife Kara have contributed many different murals to the city. Now they’ve added their signature touch on the corner of Wells and Fourth streets along the Historic Wells Street Corridor.
Larger than life artwork
“The new piece on Wells and Fourth is titled ‘Acquiescence,’ Tobias said. “It is in honor of our natural history and the delicate balance in relationships of native flora and fauna. We developed this idea with the Nicely family and the Bloomingdale Neighborhood association.
“I love mural painting more than I can even describe. It makes me feel like I have something that makes people feel good, and it is my responsibility to do so.”
Though these large murals are too big to practice on a larger scale, the Tobiases are able to craft their blueprints in the studio attached to their home, though this studio is a little different than others and comes with a few more inhabitants.
“My wife Kara and I run our studio from our garage,” Tobias said. “We share that space with our children. It’s typically filled with paintings, plants, skateboards, musical instruments, etc. Our garage is essentially our family clubhouse. We are able to run a pretty tight ship without overhead or employees. Most of our projects start with a design meeting with our client, drawing and painting design variations in the studio, then producing the final piece, either on a job site or in the garage.”
With kids running around and working in an environment of disarray — if only for the lack of tranquility — you might expect one or the other to take away from the experience of creating artwork. But keeping their art close to home, or rather in the home, helps Jerrod and Kara stay connected to what is important.
“My children and my peers inspire me to be the best dad, friend, artist, and activist that I can be,” Tobias said. “It is integral to my well-being to connect to people working toward change. We find strength and progress through devoting ourselves to art, music and grassroots organizations.
“I try not to be proud, but I am very proud of my family. I love them so much that I grew up and started caring.
The family life has helped the Tobiases stay loose with their creativity. However, it has also given them the drive to make their business work and to change along the way, even if that means using some past experiences as steps in a better direction.
“I am still trying to figure out how to be a professional,” Tobias said. “Being an artist is the only thing I ever wanted to be. I grew up working in my old man’s steel fabrication shop and realized at an early age that I was not suited for industrial labor. That experience has been my motivation to focus on financial sustainability. I used to think that meant making a lot of money as an artist, but now I realize it’s easier to live a modest life and not need much money.”
Finding inspiration and illumination
As it is with most artists, their inspirations come from the usual places: nature, struggles in life, family, etc. Sometimes, with the help of your community, though, those quintessential pieces are illuminated in your surroundings and become something even stronger with the help of things like family, peers, and your own dreams.
“I am inspired by many people locally that are in the fight to take ownership of our agency as human beings, including buying houses, starting businesses, throwing shows, going to shows, striving for their dreams,” Tobias said. “People in Fort Wayne are not afraid to believe in their dreams. If you can touch upon that in a community, you’ve got lightning in a bottle.”
A quick scroll through the Tobias’ Instagram (@TobiasStudios) and you’ll see the nature-inspired vibrant color and subject-matter that unites their work. Though a lot of their work draws from the same sources, each piece is an individual expression of their cohesive theme and view.
“There is a thesis behind the work,” Tobias said. “We are a fabric of infinite light and energy that is connected to everything that has ever existed. You are everything you dream of being and fortunate to be alive.
“Our work is an ongoing development of this visual language and folklore that seems to be connected organically. I don’t worry about things looking the same. I am trying to push my painting further both technically and narratively.”
You can find Tobias Studios’ work all over the downtown area including on the side of The Brass Rail and on your way into town from St. Joseph Boulevard, among many others. You can also see their additions to Firefly Coffee House and their work is featured as part of a group show up at Wunderkammer Company until June 26 entitled “Set & Setting.”