Critical Reflections

Jeremy Thomas: Boll

Date September 30, 2009 at 10:00 PM

Author Kathryn M. Davis

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts

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Charlotte Jackson Fine Art
200 West Marcy Street, Suite 101, Santa Fe

In an exhibition about the highly formal aspects of monochromatic art (for which Charlotte Jackson’s gallery is known) it was surprisingly easy to anthropomorphize Jeremy Thomas’s works. His choice of media, steel and pigment, tackles issues of surface in ways that two-dimensional work plainly cannot. Theoretically, if color and surface equal form, and form equals content, surface-based art can only be about itself: High Modernism in a nutshell, self-referential, purely abstracted, and informed by the nature of its medium. Yet Thomas sneaks in a punch of postmodernism by making his pods of steel look like what they are not, referencing the history of modernist sculpture in general, and playing with visual trickery.

On view in the first gallery were six boldly colored, biomorphic shapes. The most striking impression was one of color—saturated and satisfying, pure color. Module Red, a super-sized pod in bright, Marilyn Monroe–lipstick red was the star, and presents solid evidence of Thomas’s skillful employment of color. His bright hues are not mere replications of the colors of the tractors (big boys’ toys) in the agricultural fields where the bolls are; his tones are deliberately playful, the colors of toddlers’ playthings—colors that make the child in each of us want to reach out and grab at the shiny object. It is no coincidence that the artist makes his pieces look like extra-large, blow-up plastic bubbles, something you might find floating in a swimming pool. After interning with artist and blacksmith extraordinaire Tom Joyce, Thomas discovered what would become his own process: cutting, welding, and folding fiery-hot steel into forms that he inflates, balloon-like, with air.

Pure color and polished surfaces alone do not, however, assure a rating of better-than-acceptable artworks. The unfinished, oxidized “ends” of each boll in the exhibition allow for the rewarding tension of contrast. The orangey hues of these rust-like parts of Thomas’s sculptures allude to orifices; like a giant Venus Flytrap, these works are the results of some botany and chemistry project gone beautifully awry. The exquisite colors of the powder-coated pigments that comprise the majority of each piece—a deep teal pod in the second gallery, along with an elegant white piece with its baboon-like “cheeks” of ochre—might be mere Pop-ish claptrap without these organic-seeming maws.

One note of discontent, however, must be vented here: Thomas has shown works like this in several solo exhibitions now. Will he consider opening the formula of his art to include some greater unknowns? More x’s and y’s in the equation might tally up to something entirely astonishing and, ultimately, more profoundly fulfilling. The absolute value of x or y is not nearly as important as the artist’s attempts to solve the problem.

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