Susan Thomas PASSAGES
Portal Gallery, Great Falls, Montana
February-March, 2014

Observations and Reflections by Julia M. Becker

Somewhere in the great high plains of Montana, in the grid of the city of Great Falls, high above the powerful flow of the Missouri River, there is a body of floating forms, clustered in orbit, turning inside out and outside in, drifting in a silent spin, held in time, redefining space and matter.

There are Cloud, and Infant, Sprung, Spirit Bearers, Gangle, Finespun, Boats, Vessels and Orb. Grids meet organic ecstasy and spring into color, and even vessels. Vessels for our consciousness to float, to be still for a moment. And in this moment we may recognize the intensity of the matter, the churning of the seas within and without, the spinning of winds, atoms, cells, desires and fears.

Each cane and thread sculpture is an individual whirling universe that floats and breathes independently, yet there is a dialogue here. A murmur. Shadows fall upon each other and merge into new forms. Bound and complicated forms move without notice in opposite directions and back into each other. Silently, these forms grow. There is no waste; what is present is always present, in its completeness, in its order and chaos. What is here is always here.

Grid formations break out of themselves with urgency and grace. Linking, forever linking; happening before our eyes. Just as we observe the quiet workings of nature, the pure abstraction yet order of nature, we observe these sculptures. They have an effect on us. They speak to us in a language known deep within our synapse, deep within our bones and skeletal order, deep within our sense of time and transition.

Tumbleweeds, starburst, cocoon, birth, tangle, desire for transcendence, infrastructure that holds and releases, moving in all directions at once yet finding perfect balance. Serene. Meditative. Prayer. Explosion. And, here we also find pure, simple, undecorated beauty. Honest beauty, with all the questions, desire, search and complexity ... with the ability to transform before our eyes.

Here are the vessels for the journey. The skeletal forms provide the framework for dynamic, even explosive, charged, running, surging movement of particles, of consciousness. The sculptures are architectural yet botanical; there is a sense of their growing patterns. The boats are ancient skeletal embodiments, almost mammalian, in their living form. They are vessels, as our bodies are, for the arduous and complex journey. The journey that ultimately leads to lightness, and disappearance ... to complete evacuation, dissolution, permeability.

In these floating tangles of delight, I ask, how can movement be so still? How can stillness move in so many directions, simultaneously? As I gaze, intrigued, and recognizant of my physiological response coupled with the metaphysical patterns, I am grateful for such a moment of clarity and serene pleasure.

The busy-ness of the world has quieted long enough for me to recognize the churning patterns underlying the nature of my body, mind, spirit and the universe. I find a moment of revelation, and contentment. I find myself human, within this diverse and often contradictory, world. And here, the turmoil and unknown nature of the next, is clear; the unknown path before us rolls out on its own accord, forming itself. I am content to float in this moment of ecstasy, and return renewed. Though the possibility of a treacherous journey is there, it has the potential of a safe passage.

Fortunately we have artists who are willing to cross over into the imaginative wisdom of form! Who are willing to travel to unknown places in search of something they may not fully comprehend, but know, deep in their bones, that it is necessary and important.

(Thank you to Susan Thomas and this extraordinary body of work and the wonderment of its experience.)

Julia M. Becker is an exhibiting artist, published writer, teacher, gardener, swimmer and traveler living in Great Falls, Montana. She is Professor of Art and Department Head at the University of Great Falls



Susan Thomas Sublime Repose
Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art
September-December, 2010
Bob Durden, Curator of Art

Life in the 21st century is rife with chaos, noise and confusion. Perhaps this condition is not dissimilar to the industrial age, full of the traction and pace that must have seemed frantic to the culture of the time. With the speed of new technologies entering into daily life and visual messages being streamed at us almost constantly via television, the internet and satellite radio, respite from the loud din of such messages can be difficult to find in the public and private realms of our lives. Amongst that hustle, bustle and riotous noise that surrounds us, calm moments can seem too quiet and out of place. However, when we decompress and relax into our natural rhythms, the peace found in these moments can be profound. And so it is with viewing recent work by Susan Thomas. In creating all new works for this exhibition, she has dared to delve into the solace that can too easily elude us.

To fully appreciate these sublime works it may be necessary to take a deeper breath and slow the pace of the day. Once this is achieved, one will find the sincere message/s conveyed by the artist. There is a pulse at play in her work that is as our own pulse that responds to our movements and states of mind. This subtle physical phenomenon occurs without our thinking about it and we adapt to it naturally. While viewing these elegant visual statements, the grandness is found in the quiet repose of the basket form that is repeated throughout this body of work. All are connected to one another, but like that beating heart, each object reveals sublime nuances in color, line, form and pattern.

The graphite records a hand-drawn pathway determined by the artist that responds to shifts in the landscape on textured gessoed surfaces. At first glance, this mark making may seem minutely simple but in reality it is a complex and sensitive demonstration of intention by the artist. The line helps define form but alternately it is in itself simply a line—a mark that distinguishes a path in time and space. The repetitive process of applying each line is akin to the Zen search for perfection; but in the search, the seeker resolves that perfection is as it should be, imperfect. It is mysterious, paradoxical and subjective. The journey is where meaning can be found.

Susan Thomas’ application of color also adds to the sublime quality of the work. These are not the garish colors that call our minds to the loudness of urban settings. They are soft, tranquil and steadfastly organic, recalling flesh, earth, grass and winter skies. The color lacks symbolic reference and like the artist’s application of line, it contributes to a perceived sense of balance and well-being.

The vessel form, repeated throughout the exhibition, pulsates with sublime intensity. The elements that shape it (line, texture and color) both complement and resist the implied function of the form. The artist’s intent is not to creation an illusion of an actual basket but to capture its essence. Observe that the vessels are full. We are not certain of what they contain--perhaps, pureness of light or being; joy; or contentment. In the quiet examination of each object, we can each find our own answer to that question; however, fulfillment or the search for fulfillment is implicit in this work. The vessels rest balanced and full on pivot points that are not grounded or bound by gravity or the perceptual visual conventions of establishing a figure ground relationship. The forms rest in neutral spaces that do not compete with the central form. The forms simply “are”—complete, natural and at ease in their austerity. If any symbolism is present, it is a mature perspective on life and the artist’s understanding of how to portray it in a visual language.