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Reviews and Essays


Georgia Museum of Art
2001
curator's exhibition essay

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VIBRANT EXCURSIONS:
PAINTINGS BY THOMAS PAQUETTE
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However, the effort made on site is just the beginning, as the initial interaction with the subject is stored in Paquette's memory to be fleshed out later in the studio. Perhaps the original gouache painting is reworked, for he reveres these as complete thoughts in themselves. Perhaps he decides to recreate the composition in oil. In fact, Paquette may repeat a similar image several times, varying the color, brushstroke, and scale in each. The final works of art might differ vastly from one another, as images unfold in the process. Perhaps a thin wash peeks through overlying layers and is left visible. Maybe the impasto becomes too thick to function harmoniously with the rest of the painting, so the artist selectively scrapes the surface and applies new layers of paint. For Paquette, these excursions and the incidents that occur along the way are as essential to the completed work of art as is the time of day or the angle at which he viewed the landscape represented.


Through the Tall Trees II, 1999 oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches


Like many burgeoning painters, Paquette experimented with a variety of subjects as a student. Yet with time, the landscape became his foremost inspiration, a controversial choice at the end of the twentieth century as cultural and political content was (and continues to be) considered essential fodder for all "serious" artists. To skeptics, Paquette has asked, "What greater context for visual exploration, what wider view can we have than that provided by nature?" One suspects that (like another contemporary landscape painter, Wolf Kahn) Paquette is more concerned with his relationship to the tradition of painting than he is in the ideological progression of "Art". The tradition that fosters an artist like Paquette includes not  only great landscape painters of the nineteenth century such as John Constable, Claude Monet, and George Inness, but the French Fauves and Abstract Expressionists of the twentieth century as well. For these artists, paint is as much a material of affectionate investigation and play as it is a vehicle of representation. Nature is possibly the ideal subject for those who truly love paint. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, "Art is the imitation of Nature in her manner of operation. Art is the principle of manufacture." When handled fluently and boldly the application of paint to a surface approximates the creative aspect of nature perhaps more than any other mode of expression. Layers of pigment may appear like foliage. Splatters mimic rain and atmosphere. Scraped, scratched, and otherwise manipulated surfaces simulate the texture of rock, rushing water, and distant pasture.

The habit of geographical travel was nurtured early on by Paquette's parents, who packed their children into the family car each summer to crisscross the North American continent. After high school, Paquette hopped freight trains to gain another perspective on the world; and in his twenties, the artist biked from Minneapolis to Nova Scotia. His appreciation for the countryside he first enjoyed as a child and concern for man's encroachment on nature almost led Paquette to a career as a naturalist. However, the artistic calling was too strong, and Paquette returned to painting, completing both bachelor and master degrees in the field that was his true vocation. A three-year fellowship from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts starting in 1989 allowed Paquette further freedom to travel through the states. His home continent was so full of source material and inspiration that the artist's first overseas travel did not occur until 1996, when he ventured to and throughout the South of France. That trip has been followed by almost annual excursions to the European continent, including residencies in England, Wales, Greece and Italy. Paquette has also had residencies in the United States at Acadia, Rocky Mountain, and Yosemite National Parks, as well as at several universities and artist colonies.
 

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