Thompson’s we know more now: experience rendered in mark-making

In the interest of full disclosure, Bruce Thompson and I speak quite often, on a variety of topics that often centre on, but are not confined to, visual arts. Like many I’ve come to know in the cultural community here, I was familiar with his practice before we actually met. His large ‘cityscapes’ in a group show – the first exhibition in the VISA Gallery space, when the MIWSFPA opened, in 2015 – were vibrant and active, and very large. That curatorial project by Emma German (hopefully you caught her Up Close and In Motion series at RHAC last year) also introduced me to other artists, like Candace Couse and Carrie Perreault, who are – like Bruce – engaged and engaging components of the visual arts here in Niagara.

Right now, along with having a work in the Transformations exhibition at City Hall in downtown St. Catharines (on the 3rd floor), Thompson has a new body of work on display at Rise Above, on St. Paul Street in downtown STC. This is a series that he’s just completed, and you can see the entire grouping installed at RA. A quick side point: Rise Above – along with fine food, mmmm, seitan, mmm – has featured some excellent artists over the past year. Geoff Farnsworth, for example, had a number of large works on display there that frankly looked more impressive on the rough brick walls than they did on the gallery white where I’d first seen them. I must mention again that there’s a number of places in the downtown – Beechwood Donuts, Mahtay Cafe, among them – that exhibit quality work by excellent regional artists.

Thompson’s most recent pieces are less dense than the works I saw years ago in the VISA. Perhaps that’s because those pieces were more about cumulative experiences (looking out at the city from his window, and building upon the larger works as he added / looked each day) whereas the works at RA are more like vignettes. Unsurprisingly, these new works have a point of origin in looking out the window while exercising, on a track / loop, and thus are more singular, even if seen again and again as Thomson exercises: the walking in between allows for a consideration of the image, which translates into how some parts of the ‘window’ scene are emphasized, others are not, and the work becomes as much about the experience of the memory as any ‘snapshot’ of the window view.

Here’s Thompson’s words regarding the works, titled we know more now: In this series of works, I am transforming the everyday into the phenomenological, recreating moments of my day into an essence of experience. Is there any meaningful relationship between the wear lines on my plates and cups at home and my weekly trips to exercise at the gym? As we are aging and striving to stay in the world, we are also contemplating, positioning, seeing the same world everyday in new ways, changing and morphing as we go about our daily routines. These landscapes are the poetic, if impossible to imagine, space between my trips to the gym to exercise and the cracks and lines on the plates that I use everyday. Drawing and painting from photographs and memory, I recreate these everyday spaces filtered through a process of mark-making. The cracks in the plates become overlaid lines on the views from the windows of the gym. I transform this view into a moment of visual form; amalgamating, tracing and carving lines into the canvas, then reconnecting them into the layers of the composition. Each new mark becomes an additive iteration and a record of the process, building a new visual experience from the integration of drawing, painting, and memory.

Works like i only look for lost days or i only imagine the rain put you in Thompson’s space: the lines are alternately weathered webbing or more direct, with colour laid down in solid blocks. Many of the ‘moments’ are framed by a white ‘border’, suggesting a peephole ‘outside’. We are kept at a distance, looking outwards, stuck within, in a laborious space. When I sat down with Thompson in the RA space, several ideas came up in our conversation. Later, when we picked up the conversation, an idea from David Milne (a well known Canadian painter, often associated with the Group of Seven, but separate from them), seemed relevant: “The painter doesn’t try to reproduce the scene before him… he simplifies and eliminates until he knows exactly what stirred him, sets this down in colour and line as simply and as powerfully as possible and so translates his impression into an aesthetic emotion.” Thompson conceived of these images as a group – a sentence, or story, if you will – and that they can be seen ‘all at once’ in the RA space is fitting. An aforementioned seed of germination of we know more now are plates (‘dinner plates as elements of time and memory’) with the finer, grayer and more subtle lines that intersect with the landscapes. There’s also an ‘aspect of interruption’ at play here: the fragmented image, the ‘broken’ lines of the ‘plates’, and that these are detritus of a memory or action by Thompson that are encapsulated in the images hanging in the space. Painting is, after all, a creation of a moment, whereas photography is a capturing of one. Some titles reflect this: between not for certain and solid reflection or the view from here, for example.

In some ways we know more now is a visual notebook of experience (both immediate, with the windows, and more indexical, with the ‘plates’). On display until the end of October, this is a show you should visit several times (as its installed on facing walls, if you sit in opposing spaces you can ‘be’ with both walls of the show).

Bruce Thompson’s exhibition of new works we know more now is on display at Rise Above (120 St. Paul Street, in downtown St. Catharines) until the end of October, 2019. Bruce is an artist who lives and works in St. Catharines, Ontario. He completed his BA in Visual Art from Brock University and his MFA from the University of Windsor. His recent work is mainly focused on bringing the everyday happenings – walks, objects, and the phenomenological, to visual form. Previous work dealt with LGBTQ couple’s portraits and gatherings. He is also a professional actor and singer, having performed all over North America as well as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in touring productions of Titanic and Forever Plaid. He has won several awards for his acting work in San Francisco and was in the Broadway production of Les Miserables at the Imperial Theater in New York. All images are courtesy the artist.