Eric G. Thompson‘s new series of contemporary realist paintings arrived yesterday. As we pulled them from the box one by one, silenced by their cool gravitas, we saw them in a whole new way. First came a solitary bird in a tree, silhouetted against a pale sky. Was he watching the pensive girl strolling through the field that emerged from the package next? Perhaps she was headed to the barn in the following image, where she’d sit and munch on the late-summer pear in the still life. It was as though we were opening an intricate matryoshka doll, with each picture adding a new layer of details to the story.
Light flows across Thompson’s canvases and panels like meditative thoughts, revealing an endless array of materials with diverse textures and reflective qualities. As a self-taught artist, Thompson learned to capture all of these effects through looking, painting and looking again. When you come to the opening reception for Eric G. Thompson: New Works at Matthews Gallery this Friday, August 14 from 5-7 pm, make sure to take just as much care as you ponder each composition (and perhaps find connections between them). Here’s a special preview:
A sun bleached rocking chair, the wind weathered facade of an old house, and a pair of muddy gardening clogs. To the average viewer, these objects warrant little more than a casual glance. Utah artist Eric G. Thompson captures them in stunning detail with oil, watercolor and egg tempera paint, guided by a centuries-old Japanese aesthetic.
“Objects have spirit. An old cup is like a person,” says Eric. Like the characters of the objects, figures and houses he paints, Eric’s technique was refined through life experience. He is completely self-taught, and believes this process has led him to find a unique voice and vision, through perseverance, trial and error. A painter since 1989, he now resides in Salt Lake City, Utah and has been selling his work professionally since 2002. He paints from his travels and the treasures discovered along the way, deftly switching mediums depending on the mood he wishes to convey.
Eric’s artwork possesses an elegant serenity that often stops our visitors in their tracks. The allure lies in the way he plays with light, illuminating beautiful details but also revealing hints of entropy and decay. This careful balance between order and chaos is drawn from the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, a major influence on Thompson’s work. The tradition encourages appreciation of imperfection, age and patina, often referred to as “flawed beauty.”
For the past week, excited art pilgrims—determined to visit every gallery on Canyon Road—have marched purposefully into our front room and come to a screeching halt. Our Eric G. Thompson show ‘The Boundless Moment‘ is a little different from most of the exhibitions you’ll see on this famous art route. Accompanying many of Thompson’s serene realist paintings arewritings by great American poets, from Elizabeth Bishop to Walt Whitman.
The interplay of words and images has compelled viewers to slow down and look twice, sparking many a fascinating observation. Most notably, journalist Alison Oatman of the Weekly Alibi attendedour opening and wrote an elegant, poetry-filled review of the show.
Robert Lowell’s “Epilogue” [is] paired with the painting “Coffee Shop Girl.” Lowell writes: “I hear the noise of my own voice:/ The painter’s vision is not a lens,/ it trembles to caress the light” [emphasis original]. These lines are reflected in the Coffee Shop Girl’s illuminated face—as pale as rice paper.
Later on, the poem continues: “Pray for the grace of accuracy/ Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination/ stealing like the tide across a map/ to his girl solid with yearning.” Though large sunglasses hide her face and her meager mouth is expressionless, the Coffee Shop Girl is ravenous. We see her frayed emotional state in the feathery brushstrokes in the background, the squirming reddish-brown tendrils of her ponytail, and the sparkling clusters of dandelion-like fur attached to the hood of her puffy coat.
We spoke with Thompson on the phone today to fill him in on the big response his show has received. The artist was in Santa Fe last week for the opening reception, but now he’s back home in Salt Lake City, Utah. The long drive home gave him time to gather some thoughts on the exhibition. Read our interview below, and make sure to come see ‘The Boundless Moment‘ before it closes on August 28!
My studio is just a few feet away from my house. It has windows with good natural light, so sometimes I can turn off the light and still get what I need. Sometimes I’ll set up my daughter‘s easel next to mine, and we’ll work next to each other. She gets to see what her dad does. Most of the time the kids aren’t allowed in the studio, though. I’ll play underground folk music, and when I’m really inspired it feels like the music is flowing straight through my brush.
You work in oil, egg tempera and watercolor. How do you choose which medium to use for a new painting?
Between the three of them, if I want to capture something a little more loose and light I go for watercolor. If I want to capture something very solid, heavy and thick I’ll go with oil. If I want to capture something a little more photorealistic, I go with egg tempera. It gives you a lot of freedom to express the story or the emotion that you’re trying to convey with each medium.
It can be refreshing, but it can also be almost maddening. They’re all so different, it’s unbelievable. You have to switch your brain around and remember how to use that medium. It can be completely challenging, which I love. That’s one of the greatest thing about painting, is the challenge. I can always let a painting go as long as I have another challenge.
Alison Oatman’s review in The Alibi begins with, “One question contemporary realist painters often get is, ‘Why not simply take a photograph?'” Over the course of the article, she critiques that particular line of thought. What’s your answer to that question?
To a lot of artists, it’s not a great compliment when a viewer says, “That looks just like a photograph.” Maybe to a photorealist that would be flattering, but I think the greatest artists of all time have that balance of, it looks like a painting but it looks so ‘real.’ I’ve made it come to life.
Why does someone need a painting to look just like a photograph? What’s the power in that? Technically it’s amazing, but where’s the artistic freedom? I need artistic license to change things and blur edges and sharpen edges and change value to make it more ethereal.
I can make a painting look like a photograph but then there’s no energy, there’s no life to it. I think just adding a little more energy with brushstrokes or texture brings it more to life.
One of your influences is the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. How would you describe it?
It’s what an object has been through, who used it, who touched it. It’s the patina objects acquire over time, like the rust on an oil can. It just adds to the whole character of the object—I see them as little characters. A cup on a windowsill, an oil can or even pumpkins can have little lives of their own.
Your works seem still at first glance, but a longer look gives me a sense of ‘unfolding,’ of motion. Is that one of our goals?
It’s about capturing a moment in time that I’d like to freeze and experience for longer than the experienced moments.
I’ve definitely been experimenting with looser brushstrokes toward the outer edges of the painting to give it some energy. I need to experiment to see if I can get the perfect balance of detail and looseness. It’s a way of pushing myself as an artist, and it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.
Which paintings in ‘The Boundless Moment’ are closest to your heart?
A few of the watercolorsare very powerful to me in an emotional way. Just reminding me of something in my past, at my Grandma’s house in Idaho. She had a farm with all of these different structures. They just remind me of that time, and different feelings come up from my childhood.
Raven’s Hair is a very powerful piece. It’s capturing this emotion of a woman laying on this bed. Her eyes are closed and she’s having a very pleasant thought. It seems to have some nice emotion to it.”
Morning Cup is a portrait of your wife Hilary, and inspired her to write a poem that we’re featuring in the show. Do you often inspire each other like that?
We’ve named my paintings every year for 12 years or more. We try to outdo each other with the most poetic titles. The title can say so much in just a couple words. What’s the best title, or the strongest? Hilary is amazing with words.
Lor Roybal, Dodge’s Disbelief, acrylic on paper When Lor Roybal‘s big blue van pulls up in front of the gallery, we’re never quite sure what’s in store. She’s a blur of swirling textiles as she bursts through the door with something bright and colorful in tow. Her specialty is portraits, usually of characters from dreams or her vivid imagination. Sometimes she carries a box packed with miniature paintings and other times she holds a large frame in her hands. Once she brought by a loose stack of old sketches and wild free verse poems.
Lor is a familiar face in Santa Fe’s art community, but no one seems to know much about her. She lives somewhere along the Pecos River north of Santa Fe. Her two-room house is off the grid so she heats it using firewood in the winter. Her dog is her closest companion and painting is her favorite pastime. She is a scholar of art history.
“When I first started showing people my little paintings, I would say, ‘Here’s my treasure chest of gems,'” Lor once told us. There’s definitely something precious about Lor’s colorful faces. Each subject has a name and thorough biography. There are daring circus performers and pensive poets, gossipy grandmothers and mischievous little boys, cherubic elves and long-departed spirits. Some of the figures are intelligent riffs on other artists’ styles, from Picasso to Chagallto Renoir, but all possess a wild twist of Lor’s style.
Lor is now officially part of our stable, and we couldn’t be prouder to represent her. As you’ll see in her latest batchof acrylic paintings on paper, the artist is truly one-of-a-kind. Check out some of the work below, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for continued updates.
Being “cloistered in” may be key to Michelle Y Williams’ process, but that doesn’t mean she’s a recluse. Solitude is what the Houston, Texas artist needs to focus her mind and tune in to her subconscious. Her mixed media works are equally inspired by measured decisions and the pure emptiness of the blank surfaces before her. They’re conglomerations of the figurative and the abstract, and boast a subdued palette that echoes the artist’s fascination with rust, crumbling concrete and peeling paint.
When Williams isn’t in her studio, she’s not afraid to step into the spotlight. In September she’ll be featured in Luxe Magazine, and last week she granted an interview to the Matthews Gallery. Michelle told us about everything from her many materials to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, a worldview that has taught her to accept her flaws and create with abandon. Here’s what she had to say:
You write in your artist statement, “Inspiration for my work is both selective and completely random.” Is the same true for your choice of materials for a particular piece? How do you select a medium?
The primary medium in my work is acrylic (very quickly after I began as a painter using oils, I realized I have an aversion to cleaning brushes). Pigmented inks have also proven to be an often used medium for me (applied with a dropper, then floated across the canvas using my palette knife).
The choice for other materials, indeed, comes more randomly. Whether I incorporate sand or oil bar or even attaching a piece of torched metal with wax string to the canvas happens naturally & intuitively as the work progresses.
You also talk about a “relationship that develops” between you and your work. Does this change your notion of when a work is completed? Is it sad to say goodbye?
I suppose it’s more of a short-term relationship…shall we call it a fling. I invest energy into a piece which is then reciprocated upon completion, but the real gratification comes when someone has made a connection with my work, which couldn’t happen unless I surrendered it readily.
You prefer to work in solitude. What are some other important parts of your process? Do you listen to music? Do you work on multiple pieces at a time, or just one?
My preference for sequestration is actually paramount – in order to maintain the integrity and authenticity of my work, I eliminate most outside influences that could dull my own creative process. Diverse genres of music can be heard in my studio – from acid jazz to classic rock to classical – while I move between several pieces in various stages of completion.
You mention the importance of seeking a balance in your work. How does that connect with the tenets of wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic that embraces the transient self?
Rather than trying to exert control over a painting, my pursuit of aesthetic balance, (while maintaining my penchant for asymmetry), transpires more instinctively. The absence of obsessing over that quest for balance and the capacity to “let go”, relates to the principles of wabi-sabi.
I found this part of your bio particularly beautiful: “In a stain, we find understanding; in a dent, our ability to heal; in a blemish, an unchained beauty.” Embracing your flaws can be a difficult process. How does your work help you do this?
Quite simply, the alternative to embracing flaws requires far too much negative energy. For me, perfection is boring and I truly find immense beauty in flaws – chips & cracks in tea bowls used in Japanese tea ceremonies or uncut & unpolished rough just-mined diamonds – these things excite and inspire me.
I hear you’re quite the humanitarian. What projects are you involved with?
I am an “equal opportunity donator”, giving my work with abandon to many different charitable organizations throughout the year.
David Grossmann always knew he wanted to be an artist. Even before his first painting lessons with his grandmother at 10 years old, he was an avid sketcher, filling notebooks with intricate drawings of dragons and the floor plans of medieval castles. By 16, David was taking portrait commissions and doing book illustrations for a publishing company. Still, he couldn’t quite discern a path that would turn his passion into something more.
“I didn’t know how to get there as far as making a living as a professional artist,” the 29-year-old says. Finding that bridge would take a while, but it’s safe to say that he’s officially crossed it. We’re proud to be the first gallery to represent David and his work. It’s just the latest high point in an already impressive artistic career.
David was born in the United States and moved to Chile when he was two years old. It’s a place of stunning, harsh natural beauty that would inspire in David a lifelong passion for the outdoors. His grandmother was a landscape painter who lived in El Paso, Texas. When they saw each other, she would teach him oil painting techniques with a brush and palette knife.
When David was 14, the family decided to relocate to Colorado. It was a move that the teenager fiercely resisted.
“When we left, I didn’t say goodbye because I hadn’t accepted that we weren’t going back,” he says. “I’m sure for anyone, being 14 is probably a tough age. On top of that, adjusting to a new culture and new everything was really difficult.”
The move marked a big shift in David’s art. Not long after he arrived the young artist started receiving requests for commissions, and he enrolled in his first formal drawing classes with artist Valorie Snyder. His grandmother was an art director of a Christian publishing company and gave him a job illustrating Bible study curriculums.
“It became more of an outlet for me than it had been before,” David says. “It was a lot more serious, a lot more figurative works. I also started drawing more landscapes at that point.”
Despite his early success, David still didn’t see art as a viable career. In college he studied business and Spanish, focusing primarily on his studies instead of his artwork. During his last year at university, struck by the fear of being trapped in a cubicle, he finally committed to giving art school a shot.
At the Colorado Academy of Art, David learned classical painting techniques and took his first plein air painting class.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors, but until I took that class I felt like I couldn’t contain the landscape. It’s so huge, and I didn’t know how to make it into a composition,” he says. After he learned how to capture the beauty of nature on canvas, he knew that he’d be doing little else in his work. “That combination of being outdoors and painting, which were two of my favorite things, were just perfect for me,” he says.
Three years after David enrolled at the art academy, it abruptly closed. The artist once again found himself full of doubt; he’d learned a lot about painting, but he wasn’t sure how to sell his work. That’s when he started an apprenticeship with artist Jay Moore.
“In art school, my training was very much based on technique but not a lot on the professional side of things,” David says. Being in Moore’s studio gave him a window into the life of a working artist, and showed him that a fine art career was possible. “I didn’t know how long it would take to get there, but I knew that I could get there,” he says. “I remember being so excited. I’d been thinking about and dreaming about this for most of my life.”
Since then, David has developed a unique style that the artist calls “visual poetry”. Using a gentle, glowing palette, he paints abstracted visions of forests that are melodic in their focus on rhythm and symmetry. Sprawling swaths of landscape transform into flat, smooth planes while scattered trees lend a profound sense of depth. These contrasting perspectives set the works slightly off-balance, sending the eye on an endless quest to consolidate them. The compositions may seem serene, but they contain the same mysterious kinetic energy that tugs our eye from one stanza of a poem to the next.
“I think both poetry and paintings can capture an essence of something and stir emotion and imagination at a very deep level,” David says. “In some ways it’s very simplified and thought out, but hopefully it reaches to that level that connects with someone’s heart.”
David has since shown his work in many exhibitions, including national shows sponsored by Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society, and Salon International. Southwest Art Magazine featured him as an “Artist to Watch” and his work has been featured in Plein Air Magazine and American Art Collector Magazine.
The artist is also an avid traveler, and has journeyed with sketchbook in hand through the Western United States, Eastern Europe, Africa and Central America. In 2011, he finally had the chance to return to Chile. He saw old friends and spent 11 days backpacking through Patagonia in Southern Chile. It was the first time he’d brought along a full painting set on a trip.
“It’s very rugged country and I was carrying a backpack that weighed over 60 pounds,” David says. “Having to paint under those circumstances where there’s just forceful gusts of wind nonstop, it really made me appreciate that every painting is a miracle. It brought out a new level of confidence in my work.”
David had come full circle. He left Chile as a child and returned as an artist.