Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thomas Paquette (update)

Thomas Paquette
It’s always a treat for me to get to meet and talk to some of the contemporary artists I write about. This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend an opening of a new show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery here in Philadelphia of works by Western Pennsylvania artist Thomas Paquette.

I wrote about Thomas Paquette back in the Spring of 2007 on the occasion of another show at the same gallery, but I just made it to that show before it closed, and missed the opening.

At the time I was fascinated with his small works in gouache that I had seen in reproduction, and since then in a beautiful book, Thomas Paquette: Gouaches, that is available directly through the artist’s site, or though Amazon. The pieces featured in the book are also available as archival prints.

Though the gouache paintings weren’t part of the show that time (or this time), I became fascinated with some of the gouache-like characteristics of his much larger scale oils, that seem to carry some of the same feeling.

This time I had a chance to meet the artist and talk with him about his work and technique. Though still pursuing many of the same subjects and approaches that were evident in his work before, he is pushing with some of his new paintings in new directions, notably in paintings in which large color filled skies dominate the composition.

You can see some of his recent work on his own site, and a selection of additional work on the Gross McCleaf site.

In asking about his working methods, I found out that Paquette often works over his oils in layers, painting and repainting areas, partly building up texture and placing areas of color within areas of color, and partly searching out the forms and colors, almost like an additive sculptor working back and forth in clay. It reminded me that there is actually a sculptural quality to his work, in which the surface texture of his paint is one of the appealing elements of the painting; unfortunately, one that is lost in reproduction.

Paquette’s work strikes me as a delightful blending of seemingly contradictory elements, impressionistic in its color and open brushwork, yet academically strong in the drawing and composition. Close up, the shapes and areas of color seem abstract, in the true sense of that word, meaning to extract the essence of something, but also in the sense that you could crop out a small section of almost any area of his paintings and have a vibrant non-representaional composition, filled with lively variations in color and texture.

That texture itself, layers of richly applied paint, well raised above the surface in places, is also a contrast with the apparently flat nature some of his shapes take on from a middle distance. Step back more and that graphic quality, a sense of line and color that reminds me of colored woodblock prints, resolves into a lush naturalism.

The surface character of his paintings, and the nature of the areas of color close up, seem so different form the naturalistic appearance of the works from a distance that I asked him if he does a lot of stepping up and back as he paints; something I’ve been curious about in regard to a number of painters in who exhibit similar characteristics, like Sargent or Daniel Garber.

In Paquette’s case, the answer is no. He told me that it is more of a mental grasp of overall work, maintained while working close, than a technique of constantly viewing the work from close up and back.

Paquette is, after all is said and done, a realist; but his rendering technique pays attention to paint as paint, areas of color as individual abstract elements; and texture as an exploration in itself.

The tension between these opposites, along with his strong sense of value and color and the dynamics of his compositions, are what make his work so fascinating.

The show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery runs until September 27th, 2008.

5 thoughts on “Thomas Paquette (update)

  1. Julian Merrow-Smith

    The Gouache book is lovely, (Thomas came and stayed with us briefly in the spring on a visit to Provence and brought a copy) and it’s fairly straightforward to see what the actual gouaches would be like, but I’ve never seen the big paintings. The reproductions pose more questions than they answer (true of many paintings of course but maybe more so here than most), and then there’s the scale, some are pretty large. I will have to take a trip to the adirondacks sometime and see the work in person. He’s a thoroughly lovely guy and obviously lives in a beautiful area.

    BTW. Charley the pochade box from Ben Haggett is terrific – thanks for the recommendation

  2. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Julian.

    I neglected to mention how delightful Thomas was to talk with; absolutely charming and unassuming, but very knowledgeable.

    I’m glad you like the pochade box. Ben is another highly-skilled individual who is a pleasure to speak with.

    Speaking of delightful, other readers can see Julian Merrow-Smith’s beautiful small plein air, still life and portrait paintings on his site, Postcard from Provence, and my post about him here.

  3. Colin Page

    He does do beautiful work. I’ve been admiring it for years, and now he shows in the same gallery as me in Maine. On top of being a great painter I couldn’t believe he was such a nice guy. It seems like his paintings have the same warm personality as he does. the paintings have a beautiful sense of light, and interesting brush work.

  4. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Colin.

    As it happened, in speaking with Thomas, I mentioned that I had the opportunity to speak with you at your opening recently, and he said that he had had the pleasure of meeting you and was quite complimentary about your work.

    Other readers can see Colin Page’s site here, and my recent post on him here.

  5. Hiram

    In some of the large oil paintings he used very bright blue outlining leaves and branches. I seem to recall this effect as a certain artifact in color inkjet photo printing. “Long Journey” I find especially peculiar in this regard. It looks like two different paintings. On the right side it reminds me of nihonga paintings, on the left it looks more like impressionism. Anybody else notice that?

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