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Reviews and Essays

Crary Art Gallery art catalog
April, 2002

Thomas Paquette: The Land Observed


April 14 through May 11, 2002
The Crary Art Gallery · Warren, PA

Thomas Paquette: The Land Observed
Essay by Jon Zurn
If you get to know Thomas Paquette as I have over the past several years, you will notice that he is always on his way to somewhere else. Perhaps it's Greece or Wales, Yosemite or the south of France, or even just down the road to some forgotten place he's found along a river or a hill-top we've all passed by, but that Tom has stood upon.  Tom is an explorer in the fullest sense of the word. He finds things, investigates them and then, lucky for us, he shares his discoveries.

When I first met Tom he was, of course, just passing through. Sporting boots, jacket and backpack, Tom casually walked into the gallery and we struck up a conversation.  Before it was over I pored over many slides of Tom's work, something I almost never do on the spot. But it was soon obvious even in those little slides that what was before me was indeed very special.  

Yes, this was the work of an explorer. What I had found--or what Tom had found--were vistas that were not mere shapshots of beautiful landscapes (the pitfall of many painters). Rather they were, first and foremost, paintings--thick with oil, moody with subtle glazes of countless overlapping hues, electric with amazing juxtapositions of tone and alive with shapes that make the eye dance about the surface. Tom finds a landscape, but that's only the beginning of the exploration.

Indeed, these vistas, extraordinary as they can be before us, are often the result of many months or even years of experimentation and reworking. Tom, a wise traveler, keeps his pack light, often going out into the field with merely a pencil and  sketchpad or paper and gouache (a rich, pliable watercolor medium).

Back in the studio the painter takes over again, transforming these simple images into works that can vary in size from 2 inches by 2 inches to canvases that stretch for several feet. Here, too, the explorer takes over in a new way, with paint that goes on in innumerable layers, colors that stretch beyond what anyone would call "natural" and experiments that can lead to incredible discoveries--sometimes only to be sanded away down to raw canvas and the process begun anew. 

But this is only the beginning of the journey for the viewer. These canvases beckon the viewer also to travel and explore.  Stand twenty or so feet away from his painting "Season of Mud," for example. Appearing before you is a truly beautiful vision of the land, sometimes grand, sometimes simple, but always with a touch of the traveler's introspection and quiet passion. We long to stay for lengthy contemplation, to lose ourselves in the majesty of nature. But we should not stop just yet. Move in closer, say ten feet; then still closer, pausing now and then, until you're only a foot away. A transformation then reveals itself. Now we are in the realm of a nearly abstract painting, an act of expressionism, in which the surface is radiant with color, texture and form. We have encountered the aliveness of painting.

Now travel back again those several feet and return to the landscape. It will look different. (Tom's paintings, to their credit, almost never look the same twice.) Now you are back along a roadside, at the edge of a river, atop the hill. After trudging for hours--eyes moving but never settled, or gazing at your feet while your mind is elsewhere--for some inexplicable reason you finally stop. Looking up, you see, really see, a stand of trees, the hues of sunlight, the texture of bark, the grain of the snow. That's a lucky moment. Lucky, too, that we have Thomas Paquette's paintings to remind us to pause now and then on our journeys, and see.
Jon Zurn is an independent curator and visual arts critic.


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