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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   page 3

Usually absent in Paquette's work, the human component is suggested at times by a portion of highway (as seen in Through the Tall Trees II, prior page) or by a fragment of architecture. Stripped of detail, these elements serve as compositional rather than editorial devices. Only occasionally, as in Brave New Land (below), do we get a sense of man's impact on the environment. The latter painting was produced around the same time Paquette created a series depicting preserves belonging to The Nature Conservancy. In this particular work, the artist represents one of the largest clear-cuts in Maine history. Paquette heard about the devastation of forestland from a friend, and made a special trip to the scene located north of Moosehead Lake to record it. Brave New Land appeared in a 1994 exhibition from which a portion of proceeds went to The Nature Conservancy, a privately operated, international organization dedicated to the protection of the environment and wildlife. At one time, Paquette served as an intern for the agency and, to this day, regularly contributes paintings for reproduction to assist their efforts.



Brave New Land, 1994 oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches


Brave New Land  is unusually bleak for Paquette's oeuvre. More commonly, the artist chooses to celebrate the beauty and creative energy of nature, sharing his enjoyment of the landscape with his viewers. The artist's mission developed while still a young man, hitchhiking throughout the country, listening to the stories and concerns of fellow travelers willing to give him a ride, many blind to the aesthetic and spiritual value of the vistas before them. "It really depressed me that people couldn't see the beauty around them," Paquette said in 1996. "I think that's when I started to understand what my job was about, to sort of show them what they're missing." Yet, Paquette's paintings are far from documentary in their purpose, nor are they sentimental. They are evidence of the intense creative search described earlier, a sublime experience finding parallel in the engagement with nature and its forces. Paquette has said, "I do not paint to document my feeling about a subject. It is about describing the phenomenon of experience, recording the dance of the observer with the subject."

Paquette achieves a vibrant quality in his work through a complex process beginning with washes of brilliant color that delineate the basic shapes within the composition. An array of hues are layered on this underpainting, some drawn from observation, some intuited, some chosen to intensify or otherwise affect an adjacent color. The approach is somewhat similar to that used by the French Impressionists, and yet Paquette handles paint quite differently, deliberately broadening and flattening patches of color, which under close examination, appear like miniature abstractions. This careful and complex patterning of hues enriches even the shadow areas of Paquette's work, which may be occupied by a multitude of subtle colors varying only slightly in value and intensity.

The visual effect of Paquette's paintings can be hypnotic. The oil on canvas, In the Woods (on the cover of this catalog) painted between 1995 and 1997, is such an example. At first glance, the viewer may admire the naturalistic interpretation of tree trunks amidst an array of autumn leaves. After gazing longer at the painting, one notices the numerous variations of yellow that range from lime, to lemon, to a pale orange, and the lavender sky that emerges here and there. Each color is further represented in more neutral versions that shift from warm brown to bluish gray. These subtle changes in saturation and temperature cause the colors to recede and advance and contribute to the optical illusion of movement, as if the cool autumn wind is moving through the foliage. Can this mirage be calculated and intentionally affected by the artist? Paquette will admit that the final effect of a painting cannot be anticipated, but is the happy result of study, of experimentation, and of presence in the moment paint is laid on canvas. 

While hitchhiking at age nineteen, Paquette paused to make a drawing of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park. Impatient and intimidated by the majestic quality of the landmark and unable to reconcile his humble interpretation with the glorious reality before him, the young artist tore the drawing into shreds. In time, Paquette learned to temper that impulsiveness and to combine skills of observation with an affinity for heightened color and luscious paint in a manner and toward a result he now finds acceptable. Painting the landscape no longer seems a pointless endeavor for the artist. The translation of personal vision has its own rewards, regardless of whether the final image can approximate the sublime qualities of nature. As every seasoned traveler knows, the journey is half the fun.

-- Josephine Bloodgood, 2001
 

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