Fine art

Embracing obsessions

Artist J. Matt Thomas continues to explore randomness and order in his art


J. Matt Thomas wears many creative hats in this community. He is an architect, director of The PASEO, organizer of Pecha Kucha Taos, as well as the collections manager and curator of collections at the Harwood Museum of Art. So, it is only fitting that his most recent burst of artistry has benefited from precious alone time.

“I just finished renovating my art studio in my backyard,” he said. “It was an opening of space – mental and physical. I got to hide away and make a mess behind closed doors.”

The result is an expressive collection of small-scale mixed-media pieces, which will be exhibited under the title “Meditations on the Many Series” at magpie gallery, 1405 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, at the Overland Compound in El Prado. An opening reception for the show is planned Saturday (Oct. 7) from 5-7 p.m. However, works can be seen beginning today (Oct. 5).

Thomas explains that his work is influenced by his architect background. For this series, he used familiar tools and techniques, such as Masonite panels. He uses them “because they are solid, flat and lightweight,” he said. He used wood oil, finishing oil, house paint, an architect’s straight edge and an X-Acto knife. He even sometimes designed in AutoCAD while he was exploring this series.

Among the order of his architect tools and techniques, Thomas also introduced a great deal of creative randomness.

“I have a whole pile of newspaper inserts. They are references to pop culture and the outside world. I would prime my panels and then I layer over them putting the wood and the paper back together. The inserts represent the contemporary culture. And then I sand them down. The pieces have eight to 10 layers,” said Thomas.

Talking about the idea and the process excites Thomas. “I like to use pattern and geometry as a form of order. I then cut and paint and sand into the whole thing. I’m trying to calm the layers of the background noise so it can start to make sense.”

He has previously shown artwork at Taos Art Collective, David Anthony Fine Art, Taos Fall Arts Festival, “Arte de Descartes” and Central Features Contemporary Art in Albuquerque.

With a Master of Science degree in architecture and urban design from Columbia University, Thomas talks about his artwork as disparate things coming together to be cohesive.

“I play a lot with materials and pattern making and creating order. And then I break those patterns. I recognize my obsessions in order to use them as tools,” Thomas said.

At magpie, Thomas plans to hang approximately two dozen pieces, some of which are stand-alones, diptychs and triptychs. They are not framed, but rather back-mounted with three-quarter-inch plywood that is painted black to produce a shadow-reveal effect. They measure 8 inches by 8 inches.

“I like that they are small scale so that if I mess up, I sometimes literally start over,” Thomas said.

Georgia Gersh, the owner of magpie store and gallery in the Overland Ranch, toured Tempo through the gallery space in which Thomas’ work will hang. “The room lends itself to a cohesive collection,” Gersh said. “The nice small space doesn’t swallow up small work.”

Indeed, the white walls of the gallery are nicely complemented with rustic wooden beams and clear natural lighting.

Because of his role working with the Harwood’s extensive collection, Thomas talked about how his day-to-day duties have influenced him.

“In the last nine months, I did a total inventory of the museum’s 5,000 pieces. It had a huge impact. I hung out with Taos’ most incredible artists. I hung out with their masterpieces and their sketches. All of this feeds into giving you permission to being an artist,” Thomas said.

It is in this vein that Thomas unleashed even more creativity: In addition to his paintings at magpie, he will display three-dimensional sculptures as part of his “Meditations on the Many Series.”

“What inspired me to do sculpture? It had to do with the space. I got to bring out all of my power tools. I love old barn wood and scraps of wood. And I have my table saw and my router. By revealing the surfaces of the wood, I’m exposing the pattern. By peeling back the log, I’m exposing the hidden geometry,” Thomas said.

For anyone who collects work from this “Meditations on the Many Series,” Thomas said he hopes that they will turn the piece on their wall from time to time. “The work deserves time for the eyes to dance with the pattern, with the different layers,” he said.

“Meditations on the Many Series” will be on view at magpie through Nov. 5. For more information, call (781) 248-0166.