Brushy hard edges, soft edges of colour flowing into one another; bold graphite squiggles, brushed plonks of colour that hover above the rest in their chromatic intensity.
I love to write about art. I love to stand before the piece and have the experience, then try to put that into words.
My intent is to lure you, the reader, into going and seeing the work – and having your own experience, which may be quite different than mine.
That moment, where you stand before the work and just see, is what Ken Thomas’ work asks of you. “None of these paintings are ‘about’ anything – neither they, nor I have any agenda except to participate and be seen and share.”
They are abstract work, the result of a process of markmaking in which the artist “unhesitatingly allows chance and spontaneity to influence” the work.
They were painted the winter of 2008-2009 in a cabin beside Tagish Lake.
Clean new canvas has been neatly stretched over gallery-wide 30×36″ stretcher bars. Odds are good that Thomas built those stretchers and stretched these canvases himself. And it’s a beautiful job he’s done of it.
He’s also drawn another rectangle in graphite about two inches in from the outer perimeter of each canvas.
His high level of craftsmanship in building the canvases, and this simple line that traces the edge of each canvas, emphasize their basic shapes in space, their sculptural presences.
The freedom of Thomas’ markmaking increases in impact against these structures he’s created. If they were merely pre-made canvases, his commitment wouldn’t be as clear. He creates this ordered world, then deliberately colours outside the lines.
The centre piece in the room – No. 6 – uses heavy lines from a chunk of graphite. The lines fill in curved and triangular spaces around purple, blue and phthalo green strokes.
At centre, a heavy spiral draws you in, almost as an invocation, to a blue-spattered area of yellow. You might think of it as the sun, but that would be more than is really there. Certainly it serves to draw the eye into the Community Gallery from the Yukon Arts Centre lobby.
To its left, in No. 3, yellow stains over bluish green against orange and brown suggest tropical leaves to me. You can see the marks of the large brush they’ve been applied with. Intense ultramarine dots hover in front. A spatter of more saturated small umber drips suggests text to me, near the lower right hand corner.
In No. 10, brushstrokes salmon-covered ribs reach toward a yellow column that leans to the left. Purple splotches dot the surface, and bleed into the thin blue wash between the ribs.
To its right, No. 11 and No. 4 use more graphite. Their swirling scribbles seem related.
No. 11 has less paint, yellow, red and some smears of brown, water added to it so the brown edges are thinned to an intriguingly misty state, in contrast with the graphite.
In No. 4, the same colours, still thinly applied, almost fill the area within the drawn rectangle, blending and layering with each other.
Paint is applied most sparsely in No. 15, with a great deal of naked canvas in the picture plane. Almost calligraphic graphite squiggles share the space with dry brush marks in red and blue, and a blob of thick blue paint in the middle of a thinner brushstroke.
No. 1 and No. 7 also use bare canvas as part of their painted surface. In No. 1, looser squiggles are joined by orange and vermillion large brush strokes, the paint used quite wet so they bleed into each other. Three large purple strokes with mixed thick and thin paint on the brush provide a steady heart to the painting, which then beats with vibrating green dots across the surface.
No. 7 also uses a contrast between thin and thick paint. Its strong squiggles are layered with a four-inch-wide green line that’s been drawn into with the brush handle. Very thin washy brush strokes of orange and blue dance in the background while thinned opaque yellow splooshes dot the surface.
Those dots are black in No. 9, with red circular brushstrokes, a blue background and a yellow streak down the centre. This one seems almost floral. The soft watercolourish edges are intriguing on closer inspection.
No. 8 is also filled with paint, mostly – green, red, purple, orange and yellow — over the rather hard-edged self-contained squiggles. At centre, a blue gesture, dulled with orange and yellow, keeps the attention for two reasons.
There’s a clear yellow area within its curve which lends brilliance to the blue. Also, the blue paint has broken up under water to create a new species of mark, both strong and fragile, that demands attention and empathy from the viewer.
Some of these pieces, or pieces like them, were part of Tribe of Two, a show Thomas did with Sandra Storey at the Copper Moon Gallery last year.
The Tagish Lake Series continues until April 3 in the Community Gallery at the Yukon Arts Centre.