The Light Within You
Vernon Public Art Gallery
January 7 - March 6, 2019
Vernon, British Columbia, Canada
By JAMES D. CAMPBELL January 2019
Heidi Thompson’s exhibition The Light Within You includes a tight selection of her body of non-objective paintings related to monochromism and the colour field painting movement. These paintings are part of a continuing investigation of chromaticity at its most sophisticated and seductive.
In the works exhibited here, she explores two dovetailing styles – monochrome and multi-colour. The monochromatic works are fields of predominantly one single colour comprised of countless overlapping lines, splatters, dots and specks of light that all accrete and constitute their final surfaces. Her multi-colour pieces are layers of chromatic spectra that emit energy, are in flux and suggest impermanence.
In a painting like Orange Grey Patina (acrylic and silica glass on canvas, 60 x 40 in., 2018) the orange seeps out like effulgent pollen that envelops the viewer. It is painstakingly structured and sedimented layer upon layer until a certain threshold is reached where the work speaks. The process of layering builds up a rich anecdotal history of the making.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that her process-based art is one of harvesting pure light. It is a perfect offering. Hers is an art of incarnation and conservation, distilment and emanation. Light is trapped within her eloquent fields like a sort of inhering bioluminescence. It only slowly and subtly seeps out through sundry fissures in their surfaces, enveloping the viewer in a warm embrace.
There are no figural markers or vectorial orientations here to mediate the surface microstructures. Rather, there is an expansive energy field that enjoys mensurable aura. It coaxes us to enter the chromatic field and linger there a long while. On the threshold of this luminous arena, poised on that tremulous lintel, we can savour the full flowering of Thompson’s generosity of spirit.
Thompson looks to the work of American abstract painters entrenched in the lineage like Mark Rothko, Mark Tobey, and Milton Resnick. But she also looks closely at the work of contemporary painters Joseph Marioni and Natvar Bhavsar, not that there are ever any quotation marks. These are painters she always looks at, probably because their paintings’ surfaces resonate with trapped and released light and chromatic abundance. It makes sense because Thompson’s own deeply immersive art is all about amplifying colour, light and energy.
The artist convinces us to put aside our prejudices and focus on the quality of the light. The luminosity index is high. Chromatically, these paintings engage us as dialogical partners in the alchemical distillation of light. There is nothing mute in her fields. But they are mutable. They change according to conditions of looking and never grow static. They do not vitrify. Their apparent monochromism is mutable in that it is only an initial perception of structures that are multi-tiered and cornucopia-like. Their co-given chromatic quadrants seemingly pivot as the eyes move, according to the gradients of light both inside and outside the painting plane. They achieve radical adequation within the optic of the viewer, whose embodiment is always crucial to their full assimilation. Thompson, like Bhavsar, seems intent on communicating through chroma and the physical properties of paint sundry emotions and states of mind.
I could also cite Yves Gaucher as an important fellow traveller. The now-deceased Montreal painter’s Grey on Grey paintings of the 1960s were acclaimed as works of great contemplative power. In the Canadian school, he is a close blood relative to Thompson in that both artists seek out and offer the prospect of ‘communion’ rather then mere ‘communication’.
It’s important to note that Thompson, a lifelong searcher, has always been interested in Eastern philosophy, yoga and meditation. Her paintings have philosophical depth and incantatory presence. Indeed, these “energy field paintings”, as she calls them, are harvested and mensurable quanta of slow light. They are rife with quiet cadences and cascades of chromatic light that issue from hidden, subterranean spaces.
Her implied presence, the imprint of who she is in painting’s troubled present tense reminds me of the hand and the shawl offered protectively by the poet’s mother in Leonard Cohen’s Night Comes on:
“I went down to the place where I knew she lay waiting
Under the marble and the snow
I said, Mother I'm frightened, the thunder and the lightning
I'll never come through this alone
She said, I'll be with you, my shawl wrapped around you
My hand on your head when you go
And the night came on, it was very calm”
For over 25 years, Thompson has been tirelessly and joyously painting her colour fields. She wraps her viewers in her shawl as she welcomes them into deep environments of meditative quiet. The myriad luminescences that unfold in the surfaces of these paintings form webs of resilient and inextinguishable light that catch our attention and lift us up. WM
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.