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Les Thomas has long recognized painting as a language in its own right, and its diversity in terms of poetic and conceptual messages, exhibited by each individual picture.
Les Thomas' education is indicative of his dedication to his chosen profession as an artist. He sifts through a wide variety of visual sources for the imagery in his work. The influence of his view of painting as a very noble activity is combined with his acknowledgement that it can be inventive and enjoyable for both the artist and the viewer. The other major influence is culture, in its broadest terms, including all aspects of our everyday life.
Les Thomas' animal paintings tend to play with the relationship between culture and nature. The unique blend of oil and metallic paints that he applies, he explains, “may very well pertain to memory, and the manner in which we hold visual experiences within the capacities for recollection. Think of the last time you encountered a bear on the roadside, or craned your neck to watch a mountain goat or sheep on a steep and rocky slope.”
Les Thomas, as a highly accomplished artist has received many awards for his work, and been featured in several publications, and has his paintings in public and private collections in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. and Germany.
I do not sign the front of my paintings. The great Impressionist Claude Monet carefully gauged the size and colour of his signature, so as it didn't look out of place with the art "work" itself. An American painter, Robert Ryman, worked as a guard at New York's Museum of Modern Art, where he closely studied the various features of Modernist paintings, including signatures. Consequently, his name became a central feature in many of his own artworks. But so many painters sign their canvases without such consideration, and do so simply because it has become an artistic convention. In fact, some sign their works as an act of bravado, like a slash of Zoro's sword. I suppose one of the reasons Monet signed his paintings had to do with Impressionism being a style he shared with a number of his artistic peers. He wanted "his" work to be recognized as such.
Braque & Picasso did not sign their Cubist paintings. They considered themselves as two mountaineers, roped together whilst they climb to some lofty artistic summit. So one has to look carefully at many Cubist paintings to discern which of them painted a particular canvas. Atop my artistic summit is to make paintings that cannot be imitated, and that are uniquely Canadian, but without being cliché. In a sense, and like the Cubist example above, it could be that my signature is the style by which my artworks are created. And once a painting is completed, I do not consider myself to play any further part in its expression. Therefore, I do not wish to brand my name upon them. In my mind, the painting can go off and have its "own" career. So it should follow that I also wish to avoid attributing any specific meaning to my artworks. I believe that would put all of my paintings at risk of being reduced to something I stated about any one of them.
Artistic statements play an important role in marketing artwork, as do exhibition histories and lists of collections and awards. Since the art market is much more complex than a simple exchange between goods or services and money, such statements and resumes serve as indications of an artist's commitment, and reassurance that the collector is investing in something of cultural importance. The last artistic statement I wrote was 15 years ago. Today, I see my artistic identity in much sharper focus, which includes a firm belief that the significance of an artwork has to be embodied in the piece itself. Subsequently, I would consider a signature, or signature brushwork (I don't use brushes), to be superfluous. Simply put, every example of my painting exhibits an individual expression. And although they are all from the same family, each painting is in fact a token, or variance, of that family group. Now, having stated all this...
Print and CGI technologies create and re-create imagery for a variety of purposes. Sometimes as a demonstration of the image generating capabilities of the technologies themselves. Sometimes its for the purposes of selling a product, endorsing an ideology, or fostering some belief system. Whatever the purpose may be, those intentions are made evident by the means by which an image is presented to the viewer. Differing genres of painting, or "isms", could be described in a similar manner. For example, Monet's work played upon the standards of 19th century painting; images of people, landscapes, and still-life, in order to emphasize the loose brushwork and unconventional colour associated with Impressionism.
Years ago I became very interested in print & digital media. I found it fascinating that at close range one could inspect the tiny printed dots or pixels, however, at a distance removed those very same details forfeit their individual characteristics, and blend into a seamless image. Here I'll offer another parallel in painting, with the likes of Velazquez (coincidentally another artist who did not sign his artworks). In a full length portrait of Queen Dona Mariana, a painting from the Spaniard's later years, the monarch is depicted holding a white handkerchief, at the time a sign of courtly high fashion. Velazquez depicts that handkerchief with such astonishingly free paint application, that when inspected at arms length it looks arbitrary and abstract, comprised of smears, scrapes, and what could very well be traces of finger tips dragged upon wet paint. Conversely, by stepping back to the intended viewing distance, those very same manipulations of paint become folds of cloth more lifelike than if that handkerchief had been painted in a hyper-realistic manner. This is an example of Velazquez's mastery. It also says something about our eye/brain relationship, which operates somewhat like a depth of field camera lens. And that is why it is impossible to view such passages of bold paint application, and what they represent, simultaneously. Wittgenstein's duck/rabbit is another demonstration of this notion, as is the expression regarding one's ability to see the forest through the trees.
Moose live in amongst trees, and in forests, and they are marvellous creatures. Although I encounter moose frequently, I am still amazed at their unusual appearance. Front legs longer than the rear, and supporting huge shoulders and a head adorned with very large ears and an extended muzzle. The bull's sport those magnificent antlers, and the mysterious dulap. They might be to the ungulates what the platypus is to the marsupials. However, moose are large and powerful, but potentially so graceful and quiet. A friend of mine, who lived in northern Alberta for 10 years, called them swamp donkeys. How appropriate. But for my purposes, I paint moose - like all other images I enlist - because they are subjects I consider to be sub-narrative. That is to say that neither they nor their implied actions are part of any tale, as in the kinds of stories we relate to history painting, the very early form of visual soap-opera. Being sub-narrative is also devoid of biography, as in I don't paint caricatures or portraits of any particular moose. I am interested in painting "moose" and not "a" moose. Of course it is of great interest to me that the appearances of the moose I paint exhibit a certain degree of optical fidelity. That is to say, I intend that they acquire enough of a likeness to the moose we see in print, on television, or encounter in the wild. However, once this is achieved, their appearance becomes a point of departure for my purposes, and this is where dots enter the scene.
Over the years I have made a conscious effort to explore different kinds of paint applications. For instance, and as mentioned above, I no longer apply paint with brushes. Instead, I use a variety of spatulas. I have also experimented with dripping, spraying, and smearing oil paint. Painting circles and dots has been a regular feature in this research, and lately they have become more predominant in my work. Having stated that, it should be apparent that I don't want to solely depict an image with painted dots, as with Pointillism, or like the characters in Liechtenstein's cartoon paintings. Furthermore, the dots that appear in my paintings are not intended to be isolated features, or merely decorative. Their role is a complicated one.
At first glance, the surface of Animal Painting #014-1083 appears covered by a mechanically applied screen. One looks through the screen and views a moose. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the screen is comprised of tiny gold dots, approximately the size of paper hole punches. Each one of these dots conceals equally sized portions of the moose. However, the sum of these tiny eclipses do not interfere with comprehension of the image, because there is enough visual "moose" information available, that the viewer's mind is able to fill in the negated moose portions, and inference the entire creature. An added optical phenomena is that the patterned screen of dots actually enhances the resolution of the moose image. Turning our attention to the space surrounding the moose, that is the surface of the painting reaching from the animal's shape to that of the physical panel's edges, the dots perform an additional function. In keeping with my intentions to paint a moose that is, to a certain degree, lifelike, I also wish to depict a moose in a environment that is plausible, like a misty forest or swamp. Of course, I do not want to painstakingly render such a setting. My aspirations are to create a visual analogy of where moose reside. In this particular case, the dots convert what would otherwise be a conventionally painted space surrounding the moose, into both a textured surface, as well as activating a sense of atmosphere, and hopefully one akin to the mossy and calm environment described above. The setting I create is clearly not a marsh or misty forest, but it should feel like one, as translated by the creative possibilities of painting.
Born on March 29, 1962 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Nationality is Canadian
1996 - 98 Master of Fine Art, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB
1991 - 92 Post-Graduate Studies, Slade School of Fine Arts, London, UK
1986 - 90 Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB
Alberta Foundation for the Arts
University of Calgary
Westin Hotel Whistler
2000 - 01 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1999 Canadian Council Travel Grant
1999 College Art Association, Travel Grant, Los Angeles, CA
1998 - 99 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1998 Governor General's Gold Medal Award: Nominee
1996 - 97 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1996 Dean's Special Entrance Scholarship, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB
1992 - 98 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1992 Winspear Educational Development Scholarship
1991 British Council Grant, Slade School of Art, London, UK
1990 Alberta Heritage Scholarship, Painting, Univsity of Alberta, Edmonton, AB
1990 Universiade Scholarship, Painting, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB
1990 Florence Adison Scholarship, Painting, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB
1989 Seven Arts Club Award, Painting, University of Alberta, AB
2008 YouTube video