Toby Ziegler

Vanity Press


Not on display

Toby Ziegler born 1972
Digital print, ink and correction fluid on paper
Frame: 1250 × 1820 × 142 mm
Presented by Tate Members 2009


Vanity Press 2005 comprises fourteen pieces of white paper folded into triangles that have been joined together along their sides and mounted in a landscape-oriented, geometrical arrangement. The triangles’ folded edges project forward at a perpendicular angle to the work’s surface, giving it a three-dimensional, origami-like quality. The triangles bear monochromatic, semi-abstract patterns that have been printed onto the paper using the digital inkjet process and augmented by the addition of correction fluid and Chinese ink. Although partly abstract, the collective appearance of the shapes in the printed pattern suggests a landscape with trees, clouds and, along the bottom register, a section that could be an expanse of water or an area of flat land.

This work was created in 2005 by the British painter and sculptor Toby Ziegler. He made it by creating geometric and repeating patterns using the computer-assisted design program LightWave 3D, before printing them out onto a large piece of paper which he ripped up, re-arranged and stitched together with white thread before applying the ink and correcting fluid.

The term ‘vanity press’ refers to a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published. A publisher’s usual selection criteria are not applied to projects of this kind, and vanity presses therefore tend to produce books across diverse genres by authors of varying quality. Although this term’s exact relationship to Ziegler’s Vanity Press is not clear, the title may refer to the process of the artwork’s creation, in which the edges of the paper are folded or ‘pressed’, as well as the act carried out by Ziegler – here the ‘author’ – of printing the image himself.

The repeated geometric shapes in Vanity Press derive from an Islamic pattern made up of shapes that resemble a combination of hexagons and equilateral triangles, where the negative space between them forms a six-pointed star (Sally O’Reilly, ‘Emerging Artists: Pattern Recognition’, Modern Painters, March 2005, p.48). This pattern is reflected by the overall shape of the work, and the way in which it extends onto the folded paper edges renders the possible landscape scene spatially ambiguous. In his work Ziegler frequently combines recognisable shapes with abstract elements and real with depicted space in ways that can visually disorientate the viewer (see, for instance, The Hedonistic Imperative (2nd version) 2006, Tate T12308). As the critic Sally O’Reilly has observed of Ziegler’s compositions:

the ground changes, dazzling and dimming with the position of the viewer, while pictorial space hops between the illusory space of single-point perspective and the virtual space of the modelled forms. Ziegler teases our propensity to calibrate space, layering registers of representation and reality into counter-intuitive compounds that nevertheless make total sense.
(O’Reilly 2005, p.48.)

Ziegler’s work also frequently 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 and 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). Although the original image from which Vanity Press is derived has not been identified, Zeigler has said the starting point for his practice is often historical works, and they can be compared to nineteenth-century Japanese paintings and woodcuts, in which layers of flat pattern are combined as a means of depicting space (see Toby Ziegler, Helen Delaney and Patrick Smithen, Toby Ziegler: The Hedonistic Imperative, TateShots, 23 May 2011,, accessed 26 November 2014).

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). In Vanity Press, and in much of Ziegler’s work, this process of transposition results in a composition that is simultaneously figurative and abstract. In 2013 Ziegler observed that his work can be viewed as ‘completely figurative and completely abstract simultaneously. The figuration exists in one place but it’s possible to completely forget about 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.)

Vanity Press is closely related to Ziegler’s work Double Ended 2005, a monochrome landscape with folded paper edges that are joined to form a many-sided polyhedron, and to his A Walking Laceration Part I and A Walking Laceration Part II 2005, which are two-dimensional inkjet prints of monochrome landscapes augmented with correction fluid.

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 2013, reproduced p.45.
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.

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