Beautiful impressionistic renderings of a beach dotted with sunbathers in Sicily and a man rowing a canoe in Nepal grace artist Peter Toth’s website. He draws inspiration from painters such as Monet and Seurat. However, his painterly images aren’t actually paintings.
In fact, they’re photographs that Toth has taken on his travels around the world. He uploads the digital images into Photoshop and applies layers of effects and finishes, sort of like a painter would apply layers of 1 paint, which ultimately achieve an impressionistic effect.
Toth often adds somewhere in the order of 30 layers to an image. Some of his work becomes purely abstract under the heavy manipulation.
Sitting at a Starbucks café in Addison, Toth looks at a cubist work in his portfolio, trying to recall the source material: a window in Argentina, sunsets in Texas and Virginia. A new series he’s working on uses source images from Yellowstone National Park. Under the manipulation, the landscape becomes something else entirely.
“I’m more interested in a mood, the soul and the spirit of a place than a realistic depiction of it,” Toth says. “That was a huge breakthrough for Impressionists,” he explains. “They broke out of that traditional style of realistic renderings.”
When he’s traveling, Toth is drawn to scenes or figures that his travel companions look right past. That’s how he captured the ethereally transportive image of the rower in Nepal— when the rest of his group was photographing elephants in the river.
“You’re photographing something completely different than everyone else,” his Nepalese tour guide remarked.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that image,” Toth says. “I can see the image formulating in my mind before I even take the photograph.”
It’s that sort of vision that has characterized Toth’s career. Before retiring and embarking on a second profession as an artist, Toth worked in advertising and marketing with Fortune 10 companies. As a creative director, he honed his eye, often shooting his own photos and commercials for the campaigns.
After retiring from corporate life, Toth built up his photography practice by taking on private clients for weddings and portraits. He shot a beach wedding and dressed the image in his impressionist style, which the bride and groom fell in love with.
His work blossomed from there, with more people and galleries taking note. Toth has exhibited up and down the East Coast and in Oregon and Washington state, winning juried competitions along the way. His work was exhibited next to Ansel Adams in a traveling group show that marked the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. He’s represented locally by Frisco Fine Art, and prior to relocating to DFW, was represented by galleries in Alexandria and Lynchburg, Virginia, as well as a studio gallery in Washington, D.C.
Toth’s artistry eventually branched into sculptural and mixed media pieces, which start in the same way as his impressionistic photography but then receive extra physical layers outside of the computer, like pastel chalk, acrylic or oil paint, or a resin coating. About his image of a woman reading a book in Central Park, Toth remembers: “It was such a beautiful Sunday afternoon in New York. I really manipulated the image in the computer, and then used pastels to bring out certain parts of the photograph to mirror the vibrancy of that day and the lighting.”
Toth’s artistic eye is lent to custom and commission work as well, including commemorating special places or family artifacts. He traveled to a client’s ranch to photographer the rancher’s longhorn steer. About another piece he recalls: “A woman brought me a pair of roller skates that had been given to her by her grandfather and meant a lot to her. It turned out gorgeously.”
Toth’s home in Prosper, Texas, doubles as his gallery and studio— a laboratory and place to recharge from his world travels. “The whole upstairs is dedicated to my art, and my walls are full of my pieces,” he says. While hopping on a plane to Nepal might be slightly inconvenient, Toth invites interested art lovers into his space to be transported instead by his large-scale works.
Alaena Hostetter is a Dallas-based journalist who writes about her favorite things: art, design, culture, music, entertainment and food.