Toby Ziegler

The Hedonistic Imperative (2nd version)


Toby Ziegler born 1972
Oil paint, gold leaf and graphite on canvas
Support: 2127 x 2449 x 34 mm
Presented by David Gorton 2006

Not on display


The Hedonistic Imperative (2nd version) 2006 is a large canvas covered with gold leaf that has been scratched and marked with graphite and painted with repeated geometric patterns suggestive of cloud formations, as well as looser, more gestural brushstrokes. The gold leaf lends the work a luminous quality, showing through in certain areas where the paint applied has been thinned using white spirit. The groups of geometric shapes – consisting of circles and ovals – are painted in varying tonal gradations of puce, mauve, orange and charcoal, and layered beneath these, at the middle and right side of the composition, are two thick, undulating orange lines. Areas of gestural brushstrokes in dark puce, dark mauve, off-white and orange appear at intervals across the work’s surface, and when viewed close up, small isolated letters and outlines of circles and ovals drawn in graphite can also be seen.

This work was made in 2006 by the British painter and sculptor Toby Ziegler. It is based on a photograph of clouds that Ziegler found on the internet. To create the work, Ziegler mapped the clouds in the original image into three dimensions using the computer-assisted design program LightWave 3D, and the resulting imagery was then printed out, ripped up and recombined into a layered composition that was then photographed. Ziegler prepared the canvas with black paint, over which he applied an even layer of gold leaf. The photographed image was then projected onto the prepared canvas and Ziegler traced the outlines of the patterns onto its surface, as well as scratching the letters R, DR and W – likely referring to ‘red’, ‘dark red’ and ‘white’ – into it using a pencil. Following this, Ziegler applied the oil paint to the work, filling in the shapes and making additional marks in paint using loose brushstrokes.

The title of this work is derived from a theory of the same name proposed by a group of philosophers and scientists in the 1990s which suggests that all incidences of physical and psychological pain in humans can be eradicated through genetic engineering, nanotechnology and drugs. Although Ziegler has not discussed the connection between this theory and The Hedonistic Imperative (2nd version), the painting could be seen to use technological means to break down the aesthetic qualities of the cloud image and manipulate them in a way that heightens the viewer’s pleasure.

While the tonal gradations of the cloud-like clusters of shapes in this painting suggest multiple planes with divergent vanishing points that appear collaged together, thus creating depth in the composition, the reflective quality of the gold leaf background emphasises the painting’s surface, with the effect of flattening the pictorial space. Discussing his paintings in 2013, Ziegler observed that they can be viewed as ‘completely figurative and completely abstract simultaneously. The figuration exists in one place but it’s possible to completely forget and that aspect, and really just relate to this thing as a strange whole abstract composition.’ (Quoted in Gallais 2014, p.243, accessed 26 November 2014.)

The first ‘version’ of this painting, The Hedonistic Imperative 2006, is also a cloudscape combining geometric computer-generated patterns with expressive brushwork, but it is painted mainly in shades of grey with some cerulean blue. Both paintings marked a phase in Ziegler’s practice in which the artist began to introduce a gestural style into what had previously been a more controlled approach to painting. In a 2012 interview Ziegler explained that until this point he had been

working through this ridiculously schematic process that was very painstaking … trying to eliminate all idiosyncrasies. It functioned like a sieve and idiosyncrasies still bubbled out. Eventually I got so frustrated that I would allow things to deteriorate and allow things to lose resolution and sharpness and eventually I found I was able to use that as a foil, as a way of trying to make marks again.
(Quoted in Webber 2012, accessed 26 November 2014.)

Ziegler’s work often addresses the reception, interpretation, distribution and disintegration of images – whether contemporary or historical – and how these processes transform those images’ significance over time. This is evident in his work in painting, sculpture and installation in which he has found or taken photographs of paintings by artists such as Picasso, Constable and Pieter Bruegel the Elder and re-rendered them using computerised processes (see, for instance, Ziegler’s 2012 installation The Cripples). In 2013 Ziegler likened the way in which an image gradually transforms over time to biological processes of renewal:

every time your cells replenish themselves, they’ve lost a bit of their definition. It’s like if you’d made a photocopy and then you a make a photocopy of the photocopy, so we’re just gradually becoming less and less defined. It’s the same with objects, images, and meanings.
(Quoted in Gallais 2014, p.245, accessed 26 November 2014.)

Further reading
Jolyon Webber, ‘Artist Interview: Toby Ziegler’, Port Magazine, 17 October 2012,, accessed 26 November 2014.
Lindsay Ramsay (ed.), Toby Ziegler: From the Assumption of the Virgin to Widow, Orphan/Control, Cologne 2012, reproduced p.71.
Jean-Marie Gallais (ed.), Remember Everything: 40 Years Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin 2014,, accessed 26 November 2014.

Iris Balija
December 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

Ziegler works within the tradition of landscape painting but his virtual reality terrains bear the hallmarks of the digital age. His scenes are designed on computer then transferred to the canvas as schematic drawings. These compositions become increasingly complex, offering the viewer a multitude of vanishing points. Here an ordered geometric system is disrupted by the unchecked dripping of areas of paint. The effects of light are also of particular interest to Ziegler. His use of reflective gold leaf in this work further complicates the painting’s surface and distorts the viewer’s spatial perception.

Gallery label, September 2008