Artist Spotlight: Trish Thompson July 10 2020
Trish Thompson at Arts on Douglas, 2003
What are some early experiences that helped cultivate your interest in art?
My parents were early influences. My dad was a mechanical engineer for the navy base in our town. He seemed to always be working on drawings so there was always graph paper around. I loved drawing on the little squares. Even now, I have a great fondness for graph paper (possibly that’s where the grids and squares come from in my work). My mom did a lot of sewing and designing for our house as well. I can remember her painting on fabric that she used for curtains or our clothes. In elementary school, I took a clay class in which I made lumpy figures of our pets. I didn't like the results much, but I loved the process. Then, in middle school, my sisters and I took painting lessons from an artist in our town. We made drawings and watercolors of gardenias and azaleas. In high school, I designed a stained-glass window for a church in our city. It was exciting to see my design incorporated into the church wall. As I remember it, I grew up in an environment that encouraged creativity and I was always making things.
Who are some of your influences in the art world?
I am influenced by Richard Diebenkorn’s work and how he shifted from figurative work to abstracted landscape shapes. I am also inspired by Paul Klee’s inventive approach to subject matter and Antoni Tapies’s rich surfaces and use of texture as subject matter.
I also love the work and ideas of ceramicist Peter Voulkas. In graduate school, I was introduced to his work through my ceramics professor, who was one of his students. Through my professor, I learned how Voulkas believed that the process, not necessarily the product, could be the main focus of one’s work. The act of making could be both the subject matter and the goal. That really made sense to me.
How has your medium and subject matter changed over time?
In graduate school during the 1970s, I worked a lot with clay, which I loved. Later, I moved to watercolor, acrylic, and drawing. My two-dimensional work during this time was more about representing objects than exploring the surface. I moved to large nonobjective watercolor paintings in the 1980s, but the work had to be matted and framed for gallery and museum shows. Working with frames and glass was especially problematic when setting up for juried outdoor shows, which I did for many years. When I began working with acrylic paint, I liked the flexibility of the medium and that it gave me the ability to continually change my work. Whether the work was in a gallery, in my studio, or in someone’s house, I could still touch up a piece or make changes in ways that weren’t possible with framed watercolors.
My first series of work shown at Arts on Douglas was a group of nonrepresentational, highly textured paintings that incorporated gold leaf. I experimented with adding collage and texture to large quiltlike surfaces as well. Now, most of my work consists of landscapes that combine both abstracted and representational elements.
Your paintings are often made up of many layers and possess a highly textured surface. Can you briefly describe your process?
I always like to be in the middle of a painting, so I have many surfaces going at once. When I don’t know what to do next on one piece, I set it aside and work on something else. Otherwise, I tend to overwork and ruin things. I begin by creating underpaintings for my work. I like to experiment with a range of palettes and textures and I sometimes add joint compound, paper, or sand to the paint to build up layers. I may then sand down and scrape the surface. I also edit work by painting over it so that the built-up texture of an older piece can serve as the underpainting for a new one.
Can you elaborate on your thought processes as you work through a painting?
When I begin a painting, I usually set up a problem to work on. I may choose to experiment with ways to imply depth on a flat plane, express movement through active mark making or emphasize texture while working with a limited a palette. I start off with an idea, memory, or sketch, but soon the idea is overtaken by the process.
Bringing a scene or idea from memory’s ether to a solid, physical form with paint is an ongoing process. My paintings go through many versions as I explore and experiment. I push through conflict and chaos to seek resolution, balance, and reconciliation. Many times, the idea for a new piece comes from something I couldn’t quite work out in a previous piece. Or sometimes working on a piece may lead to an entirely new idea, or many new ideas. It can be maddening at times.
Many of my paintings incorporate squares or stripes on the surface and I am often asked why. When I paint, I am aware that I am imposing the idea of a three-dimensional form, such as a landscape, onto a two-dimensional surface. Since I can only create the illusion of depth in my work, I think those shapes, along with the marks of texture and brushwork, reinforce the fact that the work is on a flat plane even though the painting may present a scene in deep space.
Elements representative of the Florida landscape are regularly referenced in your work. Can you elaborate on what led to this interest?
I was born and raised in the Florida panhandle. Living on a bay near the gulf, there was always a lot of sky and water and I loved how the color, texture, and light was always changing. Now, living near both the Atlantic Ocean and the river, there is even more to see. Sometimes just the color of the ocean or the shape of a cloud will give me an idea for a painting.
Trish Thompson, River Sunset with Palm, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
Trish Thompson, River Morning, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 inches
How have your experiences as an arts educator informed your art practice?
As a college professor, I was lucky to teach painting as part of my college faculty load along with other art courses. With this being an academic setting, we had to measure outcomes, so painting was taught more traditionally. Even though my own work breaks many conventional rules, teaching was a constant reminder not to lose sight of the fundamentals.
In addition to teaching, I was required to establish and fulfill professional development goals for advancement at the college. I satisfied these requirements by exhibiting my personal work in solo shows at accredited museums and professional galleries, publishing work, and lecturing in gallery venues, among other opportunities. This requirement helped provide structure to my art practice while pushing me to continue to explore and experiment in my work.
Having this balance between teaching and painting has been important to me. I don’t know if I could be disciplined enough to be in the studio full-time and still maintain the business part of selling work. I admire friends who do that.
Even though I have formally retired from the college, I enjoy teaching too much to stop. Teaching independently allows me to limit my class sizes so that I can work individually with each student at his or her own level and pace. It has also allowed me to continue to build relationships with creative people that I would not have met otherwise.
Pick one or two of your favorite pieces on display at Arts on Douglas. Can you share a story or offer additional insight? What makes this work different than some of your other pieces?
I enjoyed working on Tree Meditation because I was able to combine textures, squares, a grid, and references to the landscape all in one piece. Because of the repetition and structure provided by the measured squares, I was able to paint loosely suggested landscape ideas that worked together.
I am also fond of Beach Morning No. 1. I love to walk on the beach. The patterns of waves and tidal puddles are mesmerizing, always changing and moving. In this piece, I was experimenting with ways to imply action and convey “splashiness” even though, of course, the painting is a fixed image.
Trish Thompson, Tree Meditation, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20 inches
Trish Thompson, Beach Morning No. 1, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 inches
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