A Personal Art History

By Thom Wright 2023

My intent this year in continuing to make fine art paintings about man-made Climate Change follows the ancient Chinese adage that, “Dark and difficult times make great art”. Both literature and art have been poignant when they address the most important, contemporary issues of their age, and perhaps these arts gain cultural recognition and meaning to future generations as well. However, fine art’s esthetic content and style always come first in appealing to current art collectors and the cognoscenti.

Of course the downside of the dark subject of climate change is its huge negative impacts on man and nature. Its destructive events almost daily reported in the news are threatening and shocking to many people, especially when things are pandemic and predicted to get worse.  The world prefers stasis, and business and governments are notoriously slow to react until disaster hits. In addition, its global, multiple threats and few effective responses just add to its gloom. 

Naturally, most artists back away from themes of death and destruction in their art.  However, my own aerospace engineering background that preceded my art making made me well-informed about the effects of fossil fuel emissions and their green-house thermal effects on the environment.  So I was already informed in the early 1970’s when Climate Change first became public news. But I had no idea of taking personal action until after I had taken early retirement in 1999, and began my full time art education in drawing and painting.  Thereafter having spent twenty some years of making water color paintings, I began six years of studies in a broad and rich set of art classes leading to a post-graduate degree. 

My first art project at Cal State University Long Beach that dealt with Climate Change was in 2004 in an inter-media art class.  My term project presented an art installation on compensating for global warming by painting all the roof tops and asphalt streets of America with white paint (tongue-in-cheek, see photo below).

“Thom Wright on his roof top, testing coatings to reflect the sun (2004)”

For an art project to have a quasi-scientific solution to Climate Change may have had a humorous side, at that time there actually was published science on developments in solar-reflection paints and coatings.  Still, how to address Climate Change in my paintings required more years of development.

During my last two years in grad school, an organized group of abstract mapping paintings about Climate Change was presented in my Master’s Exhibition at CSULB in May 2006.  This series and my dissertation were titled, “Global Warming Cycles”.  Happily, those preceding two years led to my first thorough approach to abstract painting involving a huge subject.  One of these paintings is shown below. It’s composition is the classic circle in a square, with mixed media that add a sense of measurement and analysis, and showing symbols and colors suggesting global changes, as well as lots of red hot paint indicating atmospheric warming.

“Global Warming Cycle #13”, Acrylic and gesso transfers on panel, 24” x 24”, 2006  Thom Wright

After graduation with my MFA in drawing and painting, like most artists beginning on their own, I searched for local venues (community art centers, art galleries) that would work outside the proverbial box of “what’s new and exciting”, such as what’s in the then-current art magazines.  Several of my art professors had told me that, “It’s that time after school and being on your own that one really learns to master his art.”  And quite literally I wandered through my old art and searched for several years for my new direction.  I also worked in print-making, figurative, landscape, still life, and varied abstract painting styles.  My output was not bad, but to me still not connecting with and reaching for my own approach. I continued making and selling my art. Then I found several local art organizations (Southern California Artists, Inc., Huntington Beach Art Center, local art galleries, new start-up galleries, and other community art centers) where I fit in and thrived in maturing my art, showing it and sometimes selling it. I benefitted from having experienced artist-friends, and participated actively, even taking on group leadership positions.

During these years, my wife, Linda, who early in our marriage encouraged my pursuit of art, retired, and she also pursued her own art education that led to her becoming an outstanding pastel artist. She always supported my art avocation and then my subsequent art career. And we each had our separate art work spaces at home.

When Linda died in 2011, and after making many personal life adjustments, I began to re-explore my art making.  I invested several years in learning and making Cubist/Expressionist art, and how to bring it into expressions in my own style. Returning to my Climate Change theme, I then developed several more series of paintings entitled, “Forest Warning”, “Earth Tree”, “Balance with Nature”, and the latest and largest series of 80 paintings in my “In Balance with Nature” series. My general approach involved metaphors as representing the whole. For instance, I used abstract shapes of trees as a metaphor for nature. Below is a painting from this last series where my goal was to represent a positive future happening after humanity conquers Climate Change. The simple abstract beauty in my artistic compositions stands as an analog of mankind finding and making a shared balance with nature.

“In Balance with Nature #52”, 24” x 20”, Acrylic and ink on panel, 2021, Thom Wright

In parallel with my painting career, I also continued print-making.  In 1989 I had purchased a large printing press from my art instructor (Clark Walding) while I was taking one-at-a-time, evening art classes at Orange Coast College.  He inspired me to continue working in monotypes (making one-at-a-time prints, and I have done so since then.  He also inspired me in doing figurative drawing and painting, and I gained valuable experience in figurative, landscape and abstract painting and print making.  Shown below is one of my recent monotypes from my “California Climate Change” series (2021). Here also, I use abstract triangular shapes to represent trees and forests in stress from Climate Change.  I especially enjoy this medium’s mix of geometric and expressionistic mark making, and its strong contrasts of color, light and textures with oil-based inks that are rapidly laid down within the maximum 30-40 minutes of the drying time window of inks on the printing plate. This monotype is currently being shown in the 2023 “Centered on the Center” exhibition, at the Huntington Beach Art Center, which opens January 28, 2023.

“California Climate Change #5”, 22.5” x 15”, Oil-based printing ink in Rives BFK printing paper, 2020, Thom Wright

To end now with my latest painting series, done in the vein of my earlier “Forest Warning” series (2018), I focus on my large, solitary, abstract tree paintings and explore them with a new color palette.  They have fewer colors, have lighter, brighter, and both pure and mixed colors, and my painting style that emphasizes paint-brush mixing on the canvas. The image below is the first of five paintings completed in 2023.

“Forest Warning #23”, 30” x 24”, oil on canvas, Thom Wright 2023 

To the naïve observer, the mix and clash of the geometric shapes versus hand-made brush marks may seem confusing or out of control.  But closer and longer study will reveal an experienced and effective play of colors, shapes, lines and patterns that I have learned from my many years of work.  For instance, many of the color patches have darker linear edges on two or three sides, and they enhance the visual force and direction of the color shapes while keeping them in place.  In general, the painting attempts to express an abstraction of man meeting nature, struggling to find a viable, mutual balance of life on the planet. This composition mixes movements, rhythms, symbolic elements and energies where, as Wassily Kandinsky first stated on abstract composition, “The whole determines the relationship of the parts.”

Notice too how the vertical white bands at the bottom of the painting provide a static, supportive structure. In many of my abstract paintings, I pay attention to finding and making strong and simple shapes and spaces at the bottom that support the structure above. In this case, the white lines also suggest a base-tone musical sequence, much like the base tone lines of an organ will carry a complex symphony of music playing above it. At the same time, these white verticals enhance the central black “tree” shape and its parts mixed with red and yellow lines and marks.

And here, I comfortably come to an end with this monograph and presenting the first of my new series, and I look forward to expanding it this year.  I hope that this brief overview of my art career inspires other artists to aim high and improve their art. I would also appreciate constructive comments and any questions to this blog on my website.

Published by Thom Wright Art

Thom Wright has combined his passions for art, music and engineering, and all of his practices have benefited each other. In 1986, he had an epiphany, one of those moments when he realized that he had to be a better artist. His subject matter moved toward contemporary issues, including geopolitics, global environment, technology, cultural and natural processes of change, and jazz. His abstracts also migrated towards mixed media and printmaking. These interests and processes continue in his art work. Desiring to improve his skills, theory and knowledge in art, he took early retirement from the Boeing Corp. in 1999 and entered art school full time. In May, 2006, he completed the MFA program in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach.

One thought on “A Personal Art History

  1. Thom I enjoyed the monograph on your art career. I saw that talent at the beginning when we worked together. It seems that the world keeps going in its negative direction and is still very un predictable. I hope your work has had some positive influence. As individuals we are only a short time on this earth and rather insignificant among the 8 billion people. I hope that your work has had some influence on
    National climate policy in a good direction. I am amazed that we have grown so old and still enjoy life. John Qualls


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