by Thom Wright March, 2021
ART STATEMENT: “IN BALANCE WITH NATURE”
Let’s begin with the gist of my ongoing painting series during the past year.
Big trees and large forests have long inspired humans beyond the utilitarian resources they provide. Their spirit is uplifting; some becoming massive, towering and long lived wonders of great strength. They thrive with earth, water and sun, and they benefit man and the environment. Symbolically they join the earth with the sky. Yet now less than 25% of the earth’s forests remain, and many are in environmental stress from climate change that brings higher temperatures, drought, disease and forest fires.
Choosing trees and forests in stress as my metaphor for the growing apocalypse of climate change emphasizes our collective dependence on nature for survival, that both man as the dominant species must search for and attain a global balance, in contrast with our present dominance of the earth’s resources and excessive pollution/destruction of nature. It cannot keep up with the pace of human impact on the environment. It is complex, diverse and dynamic itself, multiple ecosystems over the breadth of land, oceans and atmosphere, as well as populated with the great diversity of creatures, plants and the gamut of life.
In my geometric, somewhat expressive painting style, I paint abstract landscapes of line, form and space, on hardwood panels. These surfaces sometimes carry their own patterns, and they have their own way of influencing lines, colors and brush marks. My goal is to create a spatial environment of balance and exchange, of patterns, rhythms and relationships, of parts that make the whole. Just as many contemporary artists make compositions of pictorial, dynamic forces in balance, I make paintings to inspire man’s pursuit of balance with nature.
INTRODUCTION: After a year of the Covid pandemic, here we are, many still struggling to get our vaccine shots and find some kind of return to normality. This global human struggle continues, but now the many vaccines being distributed will help everyone, eventually, we think. However, slowly some have realized that the new normal is not quite the same as before. The virus has mutated and regained some resurgence around the world, and the global medical response has so far been less than focused on our total health and well-being. But how can it not be otherwise, given the diversity of the world’s peoples, nations, cultures, religions, political beliefs, education, interests, personalities, traits, ages, experiences, health or lack of it, wealth or lack of it, resources or lack of it, and even inclinations? And artists still have limited venues to show art publically.
“Showing my art publicly in 2020”, Charcoal and Collage Drawing on Paper, Thom Wright
Don’t bother with political differences, prejudices both racial, religious, sexual or otherwise, because that makes it incomprehensible. Yet, there is a feeling or consciousness that we are sort of headed in the right direction. If we can get the public vaccinated and restarted, and the economies restarted, even stimulated, then some general feeling of well-being may return, even for artists.
However, this is of little concern, compared with the growing threat of climate change. In 2021, almost no one denies that it is now happening. Here and there some dark changes are happening, as in growing disasters in weather and temperature extremes, rapid melting of the polar ice packs and glaciers, and lately, the measurable rising of the ocean level. Where do you place your bets on survival now: kind of depends on where you are and what you have already invested in, in solar, in electrics or hybrids, in elevation level, in location, location, in your friends and neighbors even. As an artist, I decided to include it in my art.
So what’s this is all about? What’s the really big direction and set of goals that we should consider, you know, like science, organization, global cooperation (that’s a joke), consuming less (that’s a joke too), making contributions to NGO’s (???), buying jungle land in Brazil (!!!), changing the direction and purpose of the United Nations, or even prosecuting Trump for countless illegal and obstructive environmental actions during his administration?
Instead, I ask you to clear your head of the minor stuff, and think big. What is the meta-direction that almost everyone can buy in to? Given that our latest climate change science predicts that drastic changes to the global economy are required by 2030 to reduce fossil fuel emissions and limit the severity future climate change, whatever that means. Has any government, let alone the U. S. government, thought about surviving to 2050? So far, I think Norway has, and is actually redefining its economy to do this; and Saab in Sweden is going to produce all-electric vehicles by 2030.
PERSONAL OPINION: Have I got my shots? Yes. Have I made art all this past year? Yes. Have I done all the thinking about this? NO. I read the L A Times daily, and it still hasn’t considered this scope of what is necessary to be done by 2030 or by 2050. Luckily, it still has the comics section at the back of the paper to offer humor in the face of on-going crises. It also picks up on the latest bad news of the day, but never tabloid journalism; and then there is the Op-Ed section for consideration of somebody’s opinions of the real daily and monthly issues of life, like what to do about gun control, abortion, the homeless, the refugees, the minimum wage, and the cruelty to animals. Ah, modern life continues to descend into the abyss, while others learn the meaning of dark humor. And more immediate needs and conditions make most people decide to postpone their long range thinking.
Our democratic electorate relies on responses to today’s reality in order to cope with tomorrow. How could it be otherwise? And is the rational majority of the electorate keeping up to date? Doubtful. It takes a combination of a Greta Thunberg, a teenage climate leader and some more big climate disasters and other long lasting climate and disease disasters that we can no longer afford to fix, to really consider changing the electorate’s views. Just think about the 60 year campaign around the world for women’s right to vote. England finally changed their minds in 1910, early after a 50 year campaign when women then began burning down and blowing up buildings.
APROPO ART: To ask, what does all of this have to do with making art, especially contemporary abstract art, is to begin to understand the realm of the esthetics and dilemmas of post-modern art and artists. That is, only if the artist is not bent on some personal quest for greatness, personal gain, or recognition as creating a new form of art. In addition, most people probably are not interested in the philosophical and esthetic underpinnings of today’s art, but instead look for its impact, attraction, or relationship to themselves. The few art buyers and collectors who know something about it are usually the educated, young, employed and independent-thinking segment that already have an idea of what art they are impressed by, and perhaps too how it fits in with their decor and discretionary budget.
During this past year of Covid isolation, my art making has changed direction, in that I no longer am concerned with raising the public’s consciousness about climate change; the threat is now self-evident. And what happens to abstract art lovers and artists? My decision is to emphasize the importance of finding a balance of man and nature. At first, the concept seems polemical, but for me it became my metaphor, that a well-made, abstract painting can represent global balance and stability of man and nature.
“In Balance with Nature #43”, 40” x 30”, Acrylic and ink on canvas, 2020, Thom Wright
FIRST PAINTING: In my 43rd painting in this series shown above, a dominantly warm colored composition works. It’s interpretive and a talks about finding balance. The group of reddish shapes at the bottom are my suggestion of trees in a hot landscape, and they extend vectored shapes and lines upward into the atmosphere above. The right side with a white space where I suggest the normal, biological interchange of man and nature with the atmosphere, where the yellow sunlight mixes with blue moisture, the violet ozone layer shields the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and the blue moisture forms rain clouds returning water to the earth. The red and green bands at the bottom act as a ground, both healthy and not so healthy.
It is not the veracity of the alliteration, but the poem of the painting, its rhythms and rhymes of shapes, lines, spaces and colors, creating strong vertical movements with playful variations, all in a vertical rectangular format of layered sections. The connections and relationships are made without overt recognition of real forms. The dominantly warm color palette is limited and still contains some cool tones, all distributed and mixed together for a balance whole. Thus, the painting stands up without explicit references to man or nature, which are both very abstract concepts. This separation space allows the painting to work on its own as an abstract composition.
The more art knowledgeable readers may see the artistic influence on me of the great 20th century Amercian artist, Richard Diebenkorn. His famous “Ocean Park” series of paintings were made in Venice, California, in the 1960’s and 70’s, and they make reference his love the Southern California light and atmosphere and a little of the cityscape geometries around him. However, his paintings are successful solely as abstract paintings of his own painting style. They have inspired my abstract painting as well.
“In Balance with Nature #44”, 40” x 30”, Acrylic and ink on canvas, Thom Wright, 2021.
SECOND PAINTING: In my second painting presented above, I expand my color palette and diversity of shapes and lines. The warm-toned central area changes from a pale brown at the bottom, rising into three areas of yellow, orange and pink. On either side are green and red verticals, and a small, blue-violet band of upper atmosphere at the top. Within these central areas, the boldly colored geometrical shapes at the bottom extend upwards with vectors of lines and colored shapes, and become darting, hot-orange lights at the top. The two, central curved-lines are unique in this series, as dynamic up-thrusts of parts moving to the top and right sides. All of these motions find room and cross the boundary in white areas, making new movements. Again, here is an abstract narrative of the dynamic forces of shapes interacting with color areas and edges of the painting. It feels like an abstract landscape as well.
“In Balance with Nature #45”, 40” x 40”, Acrylic and ink on panel, Thom Wright 2021
THIRD PAINTING: In my third example painting above, the large central light area dominates the space. A subtle vertical division separates a light yellow area on the left from a light pink area on the right, but it still opens the painting space and breathes like atmosphere and light. At the bottom there is a variety of vertical colored shapes and dark lines, with grouping of colors at the verticals on each side. Within the central area are again vector arrows suggesting upward movements and also relating the lower colored shapes and lines with the colored shapes in the upper black band. Thus, these three areas of shapes and lines make a dialogue among them, moving up and down as well as right and left. Additional rectangular geometries at the top and right side also working similarly in patterns and relationships. The blue bands near the top easily suggest sky in the abstract landscape.
Making dynamic balance within a square format such as this that is inherently static with all four sides being equal, relies on the horizontal divisions that naturally reference a landscape scene, and the few diagonals that play against the horizontal stacking of spaces. Some colored diagonals connect with similarly colored geometric shapes. The two yellow-toned diagonals also emphasize the Occidental landscape view that reads from left to right in the central area. And a small opposing diagonal at the top right counters and balances the others.
SUMMARY: How much of this-and-that does it take to make the painting complete? Well, you can perceive in this third painting that I have added more complexity, compared with the first two paintings. Of course, each artist comes to this decision in differently, and even differently at different times. Variety in the scope of a series is also important to me and others. That I am successful in these paintings may depend on each viewer’s preferences for colors, shapes, etc. And so I will continue with this series and return with more.