OTHER / HEAP
(6/22/17 - 9/17/17 Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas Focus Gallery)
Larry Thomas’s mixed media works are alchemies of camouflage and abstract thought comprised of paint, magazine images, printmaking, and digital imagery collaged on wood panels. Most are highly detailed, with repeating patterns and intricate passages of abstraction, while others are simpler, yet each bears the attitude of large-scale abstract work, for which Thomas is also known. Since visual art expresses feelings, things, and ideas, and the pattern disruption inherent in camouflage deceives, Thomas’s collages are charismatic paradoxes of concealing and revealing.
HEAP’s 270+ collages are exhibited in an installation that redefines the gallery space and refuses to yield to a linear path, but rather, undulates through space and across time, allowing viewers to see each work as part of an organic movement rather than staccato stepping stones to the exhibition’s end. The fluidly sculptural installation shapes our perception of the gallery space as much as our experience of each individual object.
What first may appear to be a purely abstract, even non-objective work may contain fragments of recognizable imagery, possibly suggesting inherent meaning, which is part of the subtlety of Thomas’s abstraction and the genetics of deflection. That which we seek may not be immediately visibly perceivable and yet, Thomas provides visual clues, sometimes in an elusive text, a squiggle, or an image fragment. The collages’ sometimes cryptic, sometimes descriptive titles may indicate Thomas’s reluctance to fully disclose the works’ meanings or conversely, his desire to suggest an idea through narrative text. Living in what Thomas calls our “post-truth era” we may conclude that ambiguity might possibly be meaning itself.
In Two-Faced Cloak, Thomas ruptures an inky background with a jagged horizon line and a large shape emerging from the darkness. Is it an abstracted topography or is that a tiny red pyramid slipping off the edge of the world? Defining the visual reference is far less important than the conceptual ride that Thomas pilots.
Still, some collages directly reference pop culture or actual events. Thomas notes that Big Bird Feigns Surprise (When Finding Out She’s Not Really a Bird) refers to Sesame Street’s Big Bird identifying as transgender. The collage’s action—without a giveaway trace of yellow—surges in an upward trajectory, biting through the ceiling or top of the composition, perhaps suggesting unencumbered freedom.
In the subtle Mute Heap, a green tower is topped by a dark rectangle suggesting multiple screens or windows. It’s a blank Tower of Babel in which all voices have been quieted, shifted to, and contained in small squares. In Floating Heap three separate bodies of abstraction float in space, simultaneously generating desire and ambivalence. Will the bodies connect, or simply drift away? As bellwethers of the exhibition, Mute Heap’s composition mirrors the rolling mounds of the installation, and Floating Heap may thread the connections between all of the collages—abstract yet familiar, ambiguous, yet somehow telling.