Even though Brad Thomas now lives in Minneapolis, he was such an integral part of our art community for so long, he might be the most qualified person for Carolina Art Crush status. Brad helped make the Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College into what it is today, and worked at both the Mint Museum and the McColl Center before focusing his attention on being a full time artist.
HappeningsCLT: Describe yourself in three words?
Brad Thomas:. . . this thing on?
HCLT: Who or what inspires you artistically?
BT: What: The daily work. Who: Most recently, I have been devouring any interviews or writings related to the American artist Jack Whitten. I saw his 50-year retrospective at the Walker Art Center two years ago and it still resonates with me today. His work is monumental, both in concept and scale. As he is approaching 80 years of age, he continues to sustain a deep interest in material experimentation, conceptual exploration, and social activism. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2016, so he is receiving the broader recognition he deserves. I also want to note curator Marshall N. Price’s excellent exhibition and publication “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush” at The Nasher Museum. She has an urgent and powerful voice. Though it closed earlier this year, the exhibition is going on an extensive national tour. I plan to be in Chicago (Abney’s hometown) when it opens there next February.
HCLT: When did you realize you were an artist?
BT: I’ve long claimed that art chose me; I didn’t choose it. My father owned a construction company and beginning at about age 8 my summers were spent keeping his job sites clean. As I got older, I began working alongside his employees––roofing houses, pouring concrete, framing buildings, etc. By the time I was 12, he would occasionally drop me off at jobs where I was left alone to paint interiors and/or exteriors of clients’ homes. I don’t think he would have done that if he were not confident in my ability to do the work well and not make a mess. Independence and a strong work ethic were instilled in me at a young age, but I was basically oblivious––I just wanted to sleep late and hang out at the pool like many of my friends were. Thankfully, by the time I declared Studio Art as my major at UNC-Charlotte, I had a deep knowledge of tools, methods, and materials which were complemented with an ability to comprehend the scope of a project, plan the work, and see it through to completion.
HCLT: Where can we see your work?
BT: I have one-person exhibition opening at SOCO Gallery in January 2018. I am honored that I will be showing alongside my friend Anne Lemanski. Mark your calendars . . . it’ll be a party.
HCLT: Tell us about your current body of work?
BT: Back in the spring I could sense that a substantial evolutionary step in my practice was imminent, but I was unsure as to when it might occur or what it might be. As always, I was writing a great deal and I penned the following passage in one of my books: “When words fail and all my pictures fade.” Perhaps this statement was leading to the bigger question: “How do I communicate when that happens?”
I was fortunate that a month-long road trip back to the Carolinas was soon to follow and I focused on spending time with my boys as we visited friends and family along the way. All the while, my subconscious chewed on that singular notion.
When I returned to the studio in early August, I began compiling a list of quotes gleaned from literature, philosophy, religion, and my own writings. The quotes were transcribed in my own hand onto loose swaths of gessoed canvas. Each word was cut out with a razor and coated in thick enamel. The physical words of each respective passage were then unraveled and entangled so as to restrict the reading and, hence, conceal any meaning or value that might be extracted. The related paintings may be viewed as graphic renderings of the same idea, but with the added benefit of paint’s plasticity.
This new body of work undoubtedly extends my interest in visual communication in relation to the power and limitations of the written word. I sense that it emphasizes humanity’s enduring unwillingness to heed the myriad lessons that have been compiled and remain readily available, often in the forms of proverbs or sage advise. We have the benefit of all this wisdom and knowledge, but to what end? I’m anxious to see where this inquiry leads.
HCLT: What do you think is the most valuable art experience in the Carolinas?
BT: The art scene in Charlotte is as strong as ever and the institutional curators there are doing a tremendous job. With the recent addition of Camp North End (which includes the new home of Goodyear Arts) there should be more opportunities for artists produce and share their work. More broadly, The North Carolina Museum of Art, The Nasher Museum, The Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art, The Davidson College Art Galleries, and The Weatherspoon Art Museum continue to provide excellent programs and access to their permanent collections.
HCLT: What book is on your nightstand right now?
BT: Always a copy of Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.”
The last book I read was Jeff Jackson’s superb “Mira Corpora”––I was rapt.
I constantly read articles and essays, but I don’t have the patience to remain invested in long format. However, I’ve initiated what will be a deep dive into Audible Audiobooks and some recommended podcasts. Should provide a fulfilling alternative soundtrack in the studio.
HCLT: Best meal in the Charlotte?
BT: Anything from the kitchen (and hearts) of Tom & Raymond.
HCLT: What is up next?
BT: More work and I will lead an artist’s book workshop next summer at Penland.