catalog essay by John D. O'Hern
for the Erie Art Museum exhibition: Thomas Paquette: Traversed Lands
September 18 - December 12, 2004
catalogue (jpg) version
|Thomas Paquette : Traversed Lands
Thomas Paquette began his career as a morning paperboy, which he dismisses sardonically as “essential training for an artist.” He developed the art of pitching papers onto porches with pinpoint precision…. and he watched the sun rise. Colors and forms emerged from the darkness, and the artist observed.
Paquette was early fascinated with portraying this mysterious nature. He tells of times as a child speeding through the forests of Wisconsin on family vacations, vexing over the best way to paint the fast-fleeting particularities of the forest out the car window. Between then and now, he experimented with different themes, from historical caricatures to late-night paintings with artificial light illuminating the built environment. Today his landscapes are of light in its many manifestations illuminating the simple beauty of a road sign or the complex formations of clouds.
“Signs in Summer” is a scene many of us in the rural Northeast drive through every day…and miss: roads, road signs, power poles, trees, and weeds. It is impossible to look at Tom’s painting and not “see” it. A stand of teasel commands the foreground and the composition continually draws our eyes back to them. Examine the rectangular sign to the left and the hill descends to the teasel. Examine the construction sign to the right and the road leads us back horizontally. Go to the background and a gap in the trees leads the eye down with the assistance of two vertical power poles. The curving road to the left, the horizontal road, and the misty background all suggest a bigger world but the teasel brings us back to a moment observed on a hot summer’s day.
The dean of Maine art critics, Philip Isaacson, has cited the “balance between physical fact and exceptional moments in nature” which give Paquette’s paintings “visual energy” and “tension.”
His series of paintings of Lincoln Highway scarcely need their subtitles of “Vertigo” and “Vertiginous Way.” Their compositions, equally as complex as that of “Signs in Summer,” record the tension of a fleeting moment of inertia.
Paquette’s fascination with the dark, which began on his paper route, continues to develop in many of his recent paintings including “Trail.” One of the great attractions of the forest is the microcosm of growth and decay, of tall-standing trees, of mosses, lichens, and fallen leaves. Tom suggests these intricate interrelationships but paints a moment of light, barely reaching the forest floor, but giving everything life. It’s convenient for the hiker on even the best-cleared trail to have enough sunlight to illumine the way. He may be completely oblivious to the sun’s life-sustaining quality as it bathes the assorted flora and fauna. Tom, however, returns to the studio full of keen observations and unspecific impressions of the complexities of the entire environment. As he paints he begins to give those experiences form on the two-dimensional canvas. Not striving toward verisimilitude, he creates images made of paint. He works within its limitations and his own, and the result is a collaboration between artist and material that transcends the best of both.
Paquette captures a moment among what we and the hiker may perceive as many moments. The artist recognizes the universal conundrum of the constancy of change within an eternal moment. Often in his collaboration with his materials Tom expresses a form with cells of color. Unlike the juxtaposed colors of pointillism or the invisible brushstrokes of photo-realism, Tom’s small areas of amorphous-bordered color merge to make a form yet retain their individualityindividual cells full of the potential for life and change.
The skill of the artist is present along with the qualities of the medium. Together they create images of great beauty--images to inspire us as we sit and contemplate them, and images to inspire us to go out and observe on our ownperhaps on a bicycle like the paperboy at the coming of the light.
John D. O’Hern, August 2004
To inquire about paintings: email@example.com