Those who are familiar with Thomas' mixed media pieces will likely recognize several of the show's underlying style elements.
Beginning this weekend, the Encore Gallery of the Taos Community Auditorium will welcome to its walls the art of one of Taos' most well-known public voices for education, social and environmental advocacy, and, of course, the continued vibrancy of our art colony.
"Muted," the solo show of works by J. Matthew Thomas, will be unveiled at an opening reception today (Nov. 15) from 4-6 p.m. at the Encore Gallery inside the Taos Community Auditorium at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Admission is free and the show is open to all.
Those who are familiar with Thomas' mixed media pieces will likely recognize several of the show's underlying style elements. A classically trained architect with an undergraduate degree from Kansas State University in Ohio and a graduate degree from Columbia University, New York, Thomas retains his affinity for "the tools of an architect" with which he "builds surfaces."
Most architectural drawings today are computer generated, and Thomas notes that the preliminary sketches for his works are often done on AutoCAD. However, once he has laid out the pattern from which he will begin, he turns to the time-honored means of his trade: T-square, triangles, Xacto knives, and pencils.
Thomas works his geometric magic on wooden panels, using acrylic or latex paints to adhere bits of what he terms "discarded consumer waste" in an additive collage of print and pictures. He then uses an industrial sander to creative a subtractive element in each layer, of which there can be anywhere from five to 12, until the piece is finished to his liking. It is the yin and yang of his art.
"I've always preferred using the advertising newspaper inserts for my work, not just because of their colors or the paper's texture, but as a humorous nod to their propaganda that we should buy, buy, buy," he laughed. "It's so not what Taos is about." But, in "Muted," Thomas is experimenting with a path that departs in ways from his usual artistic selection of shape uniformity and color. "The patterns are moving away from a strict sense of control and order to a fractured and disjointed display. With the use of gray, whites and blacks, so too are the works moving away from color and becoming 'muted.'" Thomas explained.
"The breaking of these patterns is as freeing as it is frightening," he continued. "Repetition is comforting, but nothing in life is static, nothing is pure, and as we are discovering, we can't take anything for granted. This unease of shifting global attitudes - political, environmental, socio-cultural - is exhausting. I found myself desperate to find a calmness in the chaos and was calmed by the monotone colors."
Another departure in conformity for Thomas will be his full-wall installations. In addition to the hanging of a number of panels, he has planned two installations that feel reminiscent of a flock of skittering birds, wings spread wide and cohesive in their movement into the sky.
"I've got one installation that is about 15 feet tall and 13 feet wide, made up of over 40 pieces from three-square-inches each, to three feet," he said. The other is smaller in dimension but no less impactful. "The Encore Gallery is one of the few places in Taos with soaring ceilings and beautiful, clean white walls. How could I not take advantage of that?"
This is part of his inspiration to contemplate our occupation of space, the making of place, and ultimately, the control we have exerted over land. "Read [my work] as maps, drawings, or blueprints for the contemporary landscape, [while] this phenomenological approach exposes consumerism and our objectified perspective of land, revealing a 'new nature' in the Anthropocene," he said.
The Anthropocene has not yet been officially noted in the Earth's geological time scale as an epoch, but geologists and scientists are moving closer to agreeing on when human activities wrought changes to the geology and environment. Did it begin 11,000 years ago, when man decided to cultivate and harvest? Was it the Industrial Revolution? Was it the 1945 Trinity test in our backyard? What, indeed, have we have done to this planet? Is this our new normal?
Questions such as these have motivated Thomas in his latest exhibition and in his community work, as well.
He regularly curates events at the Harwood Museum of Arts as its collections manager and, as director of its Studio 238, which features new and upcoming local artists in the pop-up gallery. Thomas is also the director of Pecha Kucha Night Taos, which has brought an international flair to the many innovative and creative trends of which Taos is proud.
He also continues to build platforms for local engagement as director of The Paseo Project, "an initiative that fuses art and temporary events as the impetus for community involvement and transformation," he said. Its inspired curations have given the community free, unbounded access to global installations.
Thomas has had solo exhibitions at the Encore Gallery and also at Central Features in Albuquerque. His mixed-media paintings are well-known throughout New Mexico, and have garnered attention in Germany and at the prestigious Vivian Horan Fine Art in New York City. He was also the recipient of the Taos Fall Arts Festival's Visionary Artist Award from the Peter & Madeleine Martin Foundation for the Creative Arts in 2015.
"Muted" will be on view from through Jan. 7, 2019. For more information about exhibition hours, contact the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052, or visit tcataos.org.
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