February 1 – April 21, 2019
Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe
It is an exciting time to be Jeremy Thomas. With shows opening in Santa Fe, Munich, and Paris in the next six months, New Mexico is lucky to claim Thomas as a local and to have his work on view at the CCA Tank Garage Gallery in Santa Fe through April. Unintended Consequences is a collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures taken from different bodies of work, dating back to 2006. The brightly powder-coated inflated-steel sculptures and delicate drawings and paintings are exemplary of an innovative and well-developed relationship between maker and material: Thomas’s work allows us to explore his process with him and trace the evolution and emergence of form.
We are directed through the show according to the space that Thomas’s objects define. Large, brightly colored, inflated-steel sculptural works span the walls and floor, and are positioned by the artist in such a way that each work exists in dialogue with its show-mates. Six small paintings and three drawings accent and quietly offset and balance the physical and visual heft of Thomas’s sculptures. As objects, the works taking up floor- space animate and change as you move around them, presenting the viewer with new surfaces and colors. Thomas’s dynamic, deft color choices for each piece work in concert over the space as a whole: apprehending a new angle of a piece often means discovering a new color or surface exposure as well. While this is happening directly in front of you in a single given piece, the multi-faceted nature of Thomas’s work and curation means it is simultaneously happening all over the room, revealing a kaleidoscopic array of color and geometry.
Each inflated sculpture holds evidence of where the piece began. It makes for an imaginative and, honestly, fun viewing experience to try to consider each piece backwards from its current form. Thomas begins by welding flat, geometric pieces of steel together. The 2D shapes are then either heated or cooled, depending on the size of the form, a process which makes the piece ready to receive and be changed by compressed air. Thomas’s hot process involves exposing the 2D form to two thousand degrees in a forge, which structurally changes the composition of the steel, making it elastic. Working quickly, Thomas uses forced air to inflate and grow each object before the steel cools. Pieces like Post Yellow, which is five feet in diameter, are too large to fit in Thomas’s forge. Born out of necessity, his cold process allows Thomas to make larger pieces that rely on pressure differentials measured inside and outside the 2D form, instead of heat, to gauge the safe bending point of the steel. The cold process is slower but relies on the same principle central to all Thomas’s work: the manipulation of a construct with air. The resulting deep vocabulary of folds, creases, dents, and cracks reveals the curiosity and ingenuity of an artist committed to his relationship with his chosen material and with taking risks. The three schematic graphite drawings on view can easily be mistaken for blueprints for the inflated works. I was tickled to learn that each drawing is a 2D representation of the molecular structure of red, yellow, and blue pigment.
Air is the central and defining component of Thomas’s air paintings, wind drawings, and inflated sculptures. Thomas uses air as a medium to impose upon and manipulate a construct in order to call forth and grow new forms and objects. While Thomas’s technique and methods are practiced and studied, the air used to make these works incorporates into his practice a known quantity of surprise. As an homage to the object, Thomas chooses to leave moments of unanticipated interaction, giving us further insight into his process and discovery. The air paintings and wind drawings rely on compressed air and naturally occurring air pressure patterns for definition. For Thomas, inviting in risk and the potential for serendipity by working with an organic medium results in swelling and arcing geometric forms, ones that recall botanical and anatomical structures but that are nonetheless beautifully abstract objects in their own right.