Monday, January 7, 2019

A Letter to Noah Purifoy


Dear Noah,

Thank you for your generosity.  Creating the free desert museum in Joshua Tree, California provided my family with the honor of experiencing your immersive art in the expanse, rather than in typical white rooms, although the sculptures would be striking there too.

Corrugated structure by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004
Having the Drinking Fountains positioned near the entrance creates a heart-breaking context for the entire collection.  Have the fountains ever had running water?  Providing drinking water at the site would cause disturbing interactions with those works.

Drinking Fountain Installation referencing "Separate but Equal" facilities.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separate_but_equal

Detail of "Colored Water Fountain," referencing "Separate but Equal"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separate_but_equal

How would it feel to drink there?  Privileged, outraged;  what about guilt, rebellion, spewing, and trouble...?  The fountains are a volatile work with unmistakable content.  They influenced all of my thinking as I wandered through the rest of the artworks.  Ouch.

Entropic sculpture by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

Feelings of personal and cultural devastation hung over me throughout your acreage.  These are amplified by the years of entropy, wind, and gravity that pull and twist the works to the earth in your absence.  

Figure by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

Did you intend for the gradual effects of time to continue to fashion the works?  They work with your assemblage techniques, pushing the feeling of a life endured under institutionalized degradation; not from an overt system like prison, but our culture.  My culture.

Entropic sculpture by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

As an artist I understand the joy of making, the freedom and rush as artworks come together, and how they can change by adding a new part.  I appreciate the gratification of being absorbed in creating.  

Stack of chairs by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

But I believe that we express ourselves from the abundance of our heart.  Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder haunt your imagery?  


Metal sculpture by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

The idea of using anything at hand to create a shelter, wiring it together, piecing…the urgency of your creation speaks of desperation, of using anything to pull life together.  

Structure by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

Ultimately, what's inside us is what we have to work with.  Your power, outrage, sorrow, compassion, and urgency, conjure up images of shanty towns, homeless encampments, southern Appalachian hovels.

Structure Interior by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

Steel sculpture by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

The metal arrangements relate the message abstractly.  As linear structures they are entropic, slouching compositions, but they communicate  social injustice as a part of the whole installation.  

Aluminum sculpture by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004
As abstractions they are dystopian; but in context with the house-like installations they are direct and real.  Dystopia is a philosophy, but your life experience takes this body of work beyond words.  

Stick sculpture by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

House structure by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004

Ground arrangement by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004
The heaps, whether stockpiles or installations that may have collapsed, are a sad but potent conclusion in themselves. 


Ground arrangement by Noah Purifoy, c. 1987-2004
Piles of stuff for future use, or trade, creates an environment of disorder.  I have seen crushing poverty operate the same way while in ministry in southern Appalachia. 





(Maybe I’m the one with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) 



Sincerely,

James



  

Monday, December 17, 2018

"Disarray"


I’ve chosen to paint this portrait on banana box liners because they’re so awful.  They are stained, crumpled, and gross.  They reflect the nastiness with which we serve the poor and are symbolic of the way we care for people in need.  

James Thatcher  Copyright  2018

This liner paper is the cheapest available.  They come out of the boxes so rumpled that I have to iron the paper to make it possible to use.




I choose to paint with primers instead of “artist colors” for similar reasons.  Gesso is not intended as a finished surface.  It is cheap, stark, and dry looking.  

Allowing the brown paper to show as an extra color follows the rationale of using rough materials used to depict a rough situation.

Filling in the painting according to plan, but then...

But the real moment of this project happened because of the brown paper.  The head's structure had become confusing. Where did the hair begin and forehead end?  

It was awkward so I decided to only use the four center panels of the face.  As I continued to work on this cropped center section I had to move a panel aside to keep paint from getting on it.  

BREAKTHROUGH!  It looked fascinating.  Then I added back several other panels crookedly which distorted the child’s face.  

Consider the awful reality of a young disrupted life and the people we’re creating.  Disintegrated, unstable, disorderly, chaotic…what was I thinking by lining up those panels so fastidiously in the first place? 

"Disarray", 2018, 84" x 60", Black & white gesso on banana box liners.
James Thatcher  Copyright  2018

Order is contrary to the form and content of this image.   This portrait became terribly expressive and more troubling by rearranging the pieces.   

Success came in a moment and the painting finished quickly.  Stay mindful.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Portfolio for the Portland Biennial


I volunteer at a regional food bank which supplies local agencies, rather than individuals.  We’ve had difficulty recruiting volunteers because of this.  Part of the problem is that we do not communicate who we really serve in our facilities, hence to prospective volunteers.  

I’ve begun a project of photographing recipients at the nineteen food pantries and community kitchens served by the United Community Action Network (UCAN) food bank in Douglas and Josephine Counties in southern Oregon.  

"Hunger", proposed as a billboard poster, 7' x 14', digital file
James Thatcher  copyright  2018

The idea behind this project is to communicate who we really serve, those in need, speaking their untold stories in the facilities where we serve them.  

Let’s humanize our facilities in order to more effectively engage those who are considering  volunteering with us.

Installation proposal, 24 units, each 20" x 16" x 10".

What if it were presented with a pallet of Campbell's Soup,
to be donated to the food bank after the exhibit?

Banana boxes are the ubiquitous containers used to ship, transfer, and distribute food in Oregon, and are an organic choice to support this imagery

The nature of “boxness” comes into play constantly:  what goes inside the box?


This portrait featuring Campbell’s soup draws a clear art historical reference, as well as a social reference to soup kitchens from the Great Depression, and a regional reference to the Campbell's Soup production facility just south of Portland, Oregon. 

"Shelf Stable", 2018, 19" x 35", Black and white gesso, latex paint
on reconstructed banana boxes, Campbell's Soup, rope light.
James Thatcher  copyright  2018


While conceptually astute, I maintain a studio for my practice.  It’s a practice that is hands on, technical, and sometimes messy.  I draw, paint, build, sculpt, and install, exploring materials and processes, often eschewing archival stability. 

Cardboard is not archival.  Each banana box has seen multiple cycles, and has become stained, stickered and worn.

"Relief", 20" x 16" x 60", 2018, banana boxes with florescent light. 
What if several filled a space?

There is nothing pretty or glamorous about feeding the hungry.  It’s urgent work with individuals who are sometimes emotional, sometimes desperate, sometimes unwashed.  The need is now, forget tomorrow and its worries. 

Archival, really?

"Food Insecurity", 2018, 96" x 80", Black gesso and latex paint
on banana boxes, stapled to loading pallets.
James Thatcher  copyright  2018

However, moving moments can be had in the midst of serving this population….  

Meeting the woman in Roseburg who shows up at 9am and stands, waiting for hours until the doors of the food pantry open at 1pm, so that she can obtain produce.  

The grateful couple who accessed their local pantry in Reedsport for years, who have now begun volunteering there.  

I met an elderly man in Myrtle Creek’s food pantry who was a long-distance trucker, and through it became disabled with sciatica.  

It’s caused me to be very conscientious about how I handle food during my volunteer shifts.

These are the faces of normal folks:  kids, moms, grandparents.  Who can afford not to be compassionate?


"The Light Shines Through Our Imperfections", 2018, 40" x 48",
Black and white gesso, latex paint on banana boxes
stapled to a loading pallet, two florescent lights.
James Thatcher  copyright  2018


Art as social practice necessarily confronts.  

This project began as a critique of UCAN’s lack of communication, while providing a solution for it.  This portfolio expands the discussion about food insecurity in our region, it promotes the Oregon Food Bank (located in Portland), and seeks to enlist viewers into the cause. 

Change happens one heart at a time.  That includes mine, swept up and renewed in the service to others.  The abundance of this heart expresses itself in artwork that promotes compassion, encouragement, and hope.
  
Custom Campbell's Soup can label, 8" x 4" nominal dimension, 2018, digital file.
James Thatcher  copyright  2018

Join me as an agent of cultural evolution.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Biography as Art Practice


In 1982, one of my professors at the Corcoran College of Art & Design, Washington, DC (yes, that Corcoran) said that you could sweep the studio floor and put it into the artwork I was making. 
 
"The Spirit of Myth", 2004, 88" x 66", Latex Enamel, dirt, kitty litter, & wood chips on canvas
James Thatcher  copyright  2018

It was 15 years before I actually did that, but the essence of the comment was about making artwork that used the stuff of life as a medium.  This concept has led me to embed tree branches, bark, and leaves, or hay in paint, and employ parts and processes from a 24-year career as a cabinet maker into decades of artwork.  

"Chiaroscuro", 2015-18, 48" x 72", Latex enamel, hay, bulrushes, kitty litter
on plywood panel.  James Thatcher  copyright  2018


Detail, "Chiaroscuro", 2018, latex enamel, hay, bulrushes, kitty litter on plywood panel.

Installation view, 2014-18, acrylic on canvas.

But the real estate bubble burst forced a retirement from cabinet making and changed everything.  I joined the staff of a missions-based ministry that I’d been volunteering with in southern Appalachia.  We did mission day trips every week, where I experienced the necessity, the power, and the joy in serving “the least of these.”
Now, 10 years later, I have reconnected with that passion as a volunteer for the United Community Action Network (UCAN) food bank in Roseburg, Oregon.  This portfolio is based on that volunteer work, both emotionally and by “using the stuff of it” as a medium.
  
"Portrait Box", one of 4 sides, 2018, 20" x 16" x 10",
Black & white gesso, latex paint on banana box.
James Thatcher  copyright  2018



"Portrait Box Rotation", 2018, Black & white gesso, latex paint on banana box.


"Food Insecurity", 2018, 96" x 80", Black gesso & latex paint
on deconstructed banana boxes, stapled to loading pallets.
James Thatcher  copyright  2018


The regional food distribution system, from the Oregon Food Bank in Portland, to UCAN, the food pantries and recipients in Douglas County, relies on banana boxes as carriers.  As such, banana boxes are the natural choice for a substrate, along with loading pallets, to depict issues of food insecurity.

Proposed Installation, 24 units, 20" x 16" x 10"
Black & white gesso, latex paint on banana boxes
James Thatcher  copyright  2018

This portfolio speaks of my personal history in exploring art materials, of hands-on ministry, of experience in food distribution, and passion for confronting food insecurity. 


"The Light Shines Through Our Imperfections", 2018, 40" x 48"
Black & white gesso,latex paint on deconstructed banana boxes,
stapled to loading pallet, with two florescent lights.
James Thatcher  copyright  2018

My biography is reflected directly in my art practice.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Portfolio Spread


Construction Study, 2014, 96", Latex Paint on Pine

"Hypar w/2 Equations", 2015, 14" x 7", Acrylic on Canvas

"Blue Braid 1/30", 2016, 16" x 8", Acrylic on Drywall Tape

Study based on Norwegian Architect, Soren Korsgaard, 48", Pine

"Curabola Layout Study", 2017, 24" x 24", Acrylic on Canvas

"Curabola", 2017, 24", Pine

Hyperbolic Paraboloid,18", 2017, Welded Steel w/Powder Coat Finish

"Oblique Tetrahedron", 2017, 36", Welded Steel w/Powder Coat Finish

"Red Bodice", 2017, 48" x 36" (2 panels), Acrylic on Canvas

All artworks © James Thatcher


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Above the Noise

Lately I have had passionate conversations at art events about feeding the hungry.  My work as a volunteer with a food bank has re-kindled my passion for the cause.

After working in a mission based ministry in North Carolina I understand the spiritual drive to feed the hungry and serve the poor.  By serving “the least of these” we are serving the Most High God.  By ignoring the poor and hungry we ignore Him.

Homelessness, hunger, and generational poverty are pervasive in the Pacific Northwest.  My artwork doesn't communicate anything about this.  What's up with that?

"Migrant Mother", 1936, Dorthea Lange; Collection of the Library of Congress


I’ve been working with geometry, algebra and trigonometry for several years.  It makes sense after 24 years in the cabinet making field.  


But there is a more excellent understanding.

The hexagons, hyperbolic paraboloids and octahedrons that have captivated my attention since 2013 are technical works with clean finishes.  Geometry is an idealized imagery that alludes to higher realities.  


These artworks refer to the peace of God.




Consider Elijah’s experience of the whirlwind, the earthquake and the fire.  Despite the tumult he found that the Lord was not in them.  It was the still small voice that was the Lords.  (1st Kings 19:11-12)  

The disruption, chaos, and turmoil didn't contain the Lord.

We are moved emotionally by what we see and become swept up in our circumstance, our society.  Then we express ourselves out of the abundance of our heart:  anxious, angry, afraid.... 


Our circumstances can blind us to the ever present, all knowing, all powerful God.  We are reminded that those things which are seen are temporary and that the unseen things are eternal. (2nd Corinthians 4:15-18)

"Single Red", 2017, ©  James Thatcher

Clean lines, concise edges, and sequenced colors are an expression of faith and not the world’s noise.

Pine study based on the work of Scandinavian architect, Soren Korsgaard; © 2017
  
I’m keeping on.