CREATIVE MINDS: BRAD THOMAS “HOLD THESE TRUTHS” AT SOCO GALLERY

Brad Thomas, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” (variation 1), Enamel and acrylic on canvas, 2017

Brad Thomas is a creative force of many talents…Artist, Curator, Teacher, Mentor, and Art Advisor just to name a few. His highly anticipated exhibition at SOCO Gallery this month welcomes the North Carolina native back to Charlotte revealing a new direction in his work.

I met Brad when he was the curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Mint Museum working together on acquisitions. Through the years, Brad has become a trusted friend and colleague that I look to for art advice for clients and collectors. His layered and complex abstract works are a combination of painting, drawing, words, collage, and sculpture that slowly reveal details the more the viewer engages with the works. 

I had the pleasure of seeing Brad’s new work in progress at his studio in Minneapolis, MN this summer. There is nothing I love more that seeing behind the scenes of an artist’s studio. They are typically surrounded by images, colors, objects, memories and talismans that inspire their work along with work of other artists that they admire. It is a fascinating glimpse into the imagination and the intellectual process behind how a work gets created. I joke that Brad is a combination of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and William Faulkner with a dash of stand up comic and art historian thrown in the mix.  Enjoy getting to know Brad Thomas…

STUDIO VISIT

Vandalia Tower, Home of Thomas Contemporary Studio, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

Artist’s book in clamps after sewing the binding

Brad Thomas, “Chrysalis,” Mixed media on canvas over panel, 2017

VIA SOCO GALLERY

Thomas’ recent mixed media paintings and sculptures extend his long-held interest in the intersection between language and visual communication. The passage––“When words fail and all my pictures fade”––written in one of his many handmade artist’s books led him to seek solutions to a bigger question: “How do I communicate when that happens?” The new works featured in SOCO Gallery’s exhibition embody the artist’s interest in interrogating the power and limitations of the written word. Also featured in the Hold These Truths exhibition will be the first artist’s book commissioned for acquisition. Since 1990, he has filled over 50 handmade books that brim with colorful collages, writings, and paintings that have been described as “patchwork quilts of the subconscious.” The artist has observed that his books are a running dialogue between the state of himself and the state of the world.

Brad Thomas, “Serenity” (Variation 2), Enamel and silver leaf on hand cut canvas, 2017

Brad Thomas, “It’s never as good or as bad as it seems.” Enamel and gold leaf on hand-cut canvas, 2017

TWENTY QUESTIONS WITH BRAD THOMAS

What is your background?

I grew up in Mount Airy, a small town just north of Charlotte. I attended UNC Charlotte with the purpose of studying architecture. Thankfully, art intervened and I earned a BFA in Studio Art. I was a self-employed artist throughout my twenties and independently organized exhibitions. This experience lead me to the position of gallery director at Davidson College from 1999-2012 and that was followed by curatorial stints at The Mint Museum and McColl Center. I moved with my family to Minneapolis in early 2015 where I soon established a studio and I’ve been producing art again with more intention and urgency than I ever mustered in my twenties. Perhaps it’s because I have a little more clarity now . . .

When did you know you wanted to pursue art as a career?

Growing up I worked (with little choice) in my father’s construction company, so I was always working with my hands. The epiphany probably occurred at some point early on at UNC Charlotte and I remain grateful that the faculty there was able to detect the raw potential and could nurture it during those formative years.

What is your creative process when you begin a work?

I just start. I begin at the beginning. If I overthink it, I’m dead in the water. Robert Rauschenberg used to say that when things were going well in the studio, he felt like he disappeared. The key is to find the flow in your practice and when things are flowing, your job is to stay out-of-the-way. Jazz musicians talk a great deal about the importance of daily practice in order to stay sharp on technique, but when they get on the stage, they forget all that stuff and just jam.

Excerpt from Artist’s Book

Tell us about your current work.

As you know, I work in several distinct series. I never stop making the artist’s books. That’s been ongoing since 1990 and to date I have amassed over 50 volumes that contain over 7,200 pages. For my “Hold These Truths” exhibition at SOCO, I have produced the first artist’s book that will be available for acquisition. It’s all handmade and contains approximately 60 pages mixed media works. I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out.

In addition, we will feature a new series called “When words fail and all my pictures fade.” Last summer I was on an extended road trip with my two young sons and I thought a lot about my where I was in my practice. I’ve always been interested in visual communication and its relationship to the power and inherent limitations of the written word. The paintings and sculptures in the new exhibition are an extension of this inquiry as they examine our collective handling (or mishandling) of knowledge and wisdom.

Brad Thomas, “The only thing I know is that I don’t know anything.” Acrylic and interference pigment on canvas, 2017

Who is Thomas Gleaner and how did he evolve?

It’s my handle or a nom de plume. The first solo exhibition I had in 1994 was entitled “The Gleaner Speaks: The United Notions of Brad Thomas and Thomas Gleaner.” From the early stages of my career this pseudonym––a combination of my surname and “gleaner” (one who makes effective use of leftovers or discarded materials)–– both literally and metaphorically approximates my creative self.

Brad Thomas, “Serenity” (Variation 1) Mixed media on canvas over panel, 2017

Can you give us a glimpse of what to expect from Brad Thomas in the future?

More work . . .

Brad Thomas, “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity,” Enamel and acrylic on canvas, 2017

Do you have any advice for budding artists and/or budding collectors?

Artists:

  • Work
  • Take nothing for granted
  • Write ‘Thank You’ notes
  • Get back to work

Collectors:

For those who are beginning to seriously collect art, the first step is to do a lot of research to determine what types of art are of most interest. If budget permits, secure the service of a reputable art advisor to help develop a program and gain access to artists and opportunities. As with most material assets, the long-term care and maintenance of your art objects will be a consideration. Keep good records and periodically update valuations for insurance purposes.

Brad Thomas, “Golden Rule,” Enamel and acrylic on canvas, 2017

How has living in the South influenced your art?

It’s home. The acclaimed American artist Jack Whitten is from Bessemer, Alabama and he often talks about the “Southern Sensibility.” It’s an approach to ideas and aesthetics that’s hard to articulate. Where I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina, much of the landscape was choked with kudzu and dotted with dilapidated barns that were used for curing tobacco. It seemed as though everyone did their own repairs on their homes and cars, so I always surrounded by patched or bricolage surfaces. This is not necessarily a just Southern trait, but I grew up in a family of storytellers and I suppose that’s where I developed my deep interest in language and narrative.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, “Spoonbridge and Cherry”, Walker Sculpture Garden, 1985-1988

How has your move to Minneapolis influenced your art?

The return to my studio practice has little to do with where I live, but it has been a great experience getting to know more dedicated artists. The museum and gallery scenes are outstanding and generally speaking, there’s a strong network of support. Regardless of where I live, though, it remains important to travel as much as possible to experience art and culture elsewhere.

Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988): Jazz Village, 1967. Collage: mixed media on board. Private Collection.

Sean Scully, Figure in a Room, 1967. All images © Sean Scully

Whose work do you admire? 

That’s a big one and I’m reluctant to start listing names here as I will most certainly leave some out. However, I can tell you that my earliest and most formative experiences were in the presence of works by Anselm Kiefer, Ilene Segalove, Sean Scully, Romare Bearden, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Marcel Broodthaers, and Hans Bellmer, to name a few.

What type of art do you collect?

I have been very fortunate over the years to trade art with friends. I make a point of purchasing art from young, emerging artists. My first few sales were absolutely critical to my development and my wish is to pay that patronage forward. For me, it wasn’t so much about the amount of money, but the validation that a person would invest in me and want to live with my work. 

What would be your fantasy work of art to acquire?

Hands down––an Egon Shiele work on paper.

What would be your dream commission?

Developing a book in collaboration with a writer and set designs for a dance or musical performance.

Dream vacation?

When my boys get a bit older, we’re going island hopping in Okinawa, Japan.

Secret vice?

A print copy of the Sunday NYTimes and a couple uninterrupted hours to read it.  

Idea of Bliss?

I believe I’m living it.

Theme Song?

“Easy” by The Commodores

Most recent art trip/adventure?

We had another great week in Miami during the art fairs there in December. I’m heading to New York in February, specifically to take in the Michelangelo drawing exhibition at the Met.

Favorite museum?

Again, I’m reluctant to start a list, but I will tell you that a surprise delight for me was the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I really loved the excellent/eclectic nature of the collection and the way the spaces within the building seemed to fold back onto themselves. Also, another fun and unique experience was had at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.

BIOGRAPHY

Brad Thomas is a native of Mount Airy, North Carolina and is a graduate of UNC Charlotte’s Department of Art + Art History. In spring 2015, he was honored with the University’s inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Arts and Architecture.

Brad has over 25 years experience as a professional artist, curator, and administrator. He served for five years on the Arts & Science Council’s Public Art Commission of Mecklenburg County and had the honor of working alongside dedicated arts professionals and educators at Davidson College, The Mint Museum, and McColl Center for Art + Innovation to promote contemporary art and the artists who make it.

As a visual artist, his commissioned works have been featured at the North Carolina Museum of Art, The Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art, and The Craft Museum of Finland. His works are held in numerous private and public collections including the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Weatherspoon Art Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is represented in Charlotte by SOCO Gallery.

EXHIBITION DETAILS

January 24 – March 16, 2018
Opening Reception With The Artists
January 24, 2018, 6 – 8 PM

For inquiries, please contact SOCO Gallery.

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