Sabbatical Selections: A Year of Creative Production



James B. Thompson

Sabbatical Selections: A Year of Creative Production
  • Paintings on paper and Kiln-Formed Glass

  • Recent Mixed-Media Paintings

October 2 – November 1, 2014,    4:;30 to 6:00 p.m.


This exhibition includes selected works from the three series’ I created during the period of time encompassing my recent sabbatical. These include; Elemental Mutability: An Exploration in Glass (a series of kiln-formed glass pieces resulting from a productive and intensive period of time spent working at the Factory Research and Education Center at Bullseye Glass Company where I had been offered a month-long artist residency in 2012), Linear Metaphysics: Contemporary Mark-Making and Time-Based Art Works (a series of paintings on paper resulting from extensive research into the history and prehistory of ancient peoples undertaken in Scotland and England), and French Curve: Where The River Bends (a series of mixed-media paintings on hardboard panels resulting from a month spent abroad in Burgundy, France at La Porte Peinte Centre Pour Les Arts where I had been selected to participate in a month-long international artist residency in 2012). Although the bodies of work created for each specific series had their own, unique artist statement and purpose, I found that thematically, a number of overarching themes, ideas and processes could transfer through each medium and thus inform the overall conceptual development of the works in their entirety. Gallery Director, Paula Portinga Booth also recognized a kind of dialogue at work between the series’ that might be appreciated by viewers here at the Cannon Gallery of Art at Western Oregon University so I am truly honored and most grateful to her and the gallery selection committee for their insightfulness as well as this opportunity to exhibit these works together in one space.


Examples of Work


 Basket-Wheel Doorways-And-Entrances  Grain-Sieve
Meandering-Spring New-Moon Thistle-Weed



I had just returned from a month abroad studying the natural and altered landscapes of ancient Britain when I arrived to work in the studio at Bullseye so ideas about the historic responsiveness of early peoples to the natural elements of weather and time were fresh in my mind at the outset of my creative endeavor. It occurred to me that these same elements have continued to influence our relationships with the celestial and terrestrial phenomena of change in the landscape of our present so this interplay became a kind of springboard from which to explore the medium of kiln-formed glass and its inherent properties. Sand and minerals continually shift through the forces of wind, rain and gravity. When they are brought to a high temperature they become molten, fluid and transitory. They move from this state of flux into a more plastic or malleable stage before cooling and hardening fast as glass so we think of this medium as being stable, permanent and fixed. However, rather than it being unchanging or immutable, glass remains in a constant state of change and is subject to the gravitational pull of the planet as if the material meant to return or revert to its elemental state as it does in geologic time. I set out to experiment with the parallels of how we experience these changes in the landscape and how they might also be manifested in the medium of glass. In the process, I learned something about what glass can do, what I could do with it, and what it could do with me as an artist if I remained open, engaged and responsive to the creative interplay the medium offers.



The stratification or layering of time is of particular interest to me as an artist working in 21st century global visual culture because the art works I create inherently reflect their origins as both, part of the time-honored ancient tradition or continuum of mark-making by human beings, and the original form of time-based media. Creatively my work has evolved over the past decade to incorporate the history and prehistory of peoples, their relationship to the immediate landscape and the importance of their cultural artifacts/remnants as an extension of my exploration into the larger creative themes regarding a sense of identity, time, place and purpose. Examining our collective history distinguishes the peoples and ideas of the present from those of the past as we exist and create in this continuum. In layering media the effects of time become an integral feature in my work just as remnants and fragments of our shared humanity inform the comprehensive stratification of our current cultural landscape. The Western scientific notion of dividing people, places and objects into separate segments first in order to study them runs counter to my professional training which prepares me to approach things in their entirety and as a whole before breaking them down into parts since, as an artist, I also view and understand my perceptions, imagination and sense of identity as components of the natural world. My experience of most things begins with a general comprehension and develops into a much more specific understanding as my focus intensifies. The formal processes I develop and employ in the creation of my art involve the exploration of ideas over time as they move from the general to the specific in much the same manner. The application of overlapping linear elements, marks and paint create a stratification and layering of time as an integral feature in this comprehensive body of work. Parallels exist between the surface and spatial relationships created on these paintings and the surface treatment, marks, patterns and structural assembly seen on the stones and other historic objects and landforms of ancient Scotland and England that have been worked by wind, weather, water and human hands as well as the effects of time.



As an artist I have long concerned myself with the notion of our present landscape and how our ongoing interaction with the earth itself informs our perceptions, forges a sense of community and sustains us as a people over time since this continual process of engagement serves as a form of practice. Events, rituals and celebrations are closely tied to the ways in which we interact seasonally with the landscape around us as we work the land and share those experiences as a people. Sustainability can be explored from economic, environmental, ecological and agricultural perspectives but they are not the only forms of sustainable practice that support village life; so, I examined the surrounding landscape, roads, footpaths, bridges, walls, towers, historic structures, architectural remains and land features inherent in the region encompassing a small village in France as well as those contemporary social environments created by the local people who either made a home in that place or made that place their home. I explored aspects of sustainability incorporating the social, cultural and humanitarian dimensions that help shape the character and heritage of a people. These paintings on panels involve the use of surface relationships to impart a sense of history, the passage of time and the impact of sustainable practices on the development of cultural identity specific to a place or locale. By taking into account our direct relationship to and with each other as well as our immediate environment as basic tenets of sustainability, I am also able to examine the role of humanity in developing the current cultural landscape as we strive to reinforce a stronger sense of community in an increasingly fractured 21st century global visual society.

James B. Thompson


James B. Thompson

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1951, James B. Thompson earned his BA degree from Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1973 and his MFA degree from Washington University School of Fine Arts in St. Louis, Missouri in 1977. Though, a Professor of Art and faculty member at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon since 1986, Thompson began his teaching career in 1976 at Washington University School of Fine Arts and has also formally taught Art at AHA-ILACA in London, England; National University of Ireland in Galway, Ireland; Ripon College; OSU-Cascades; University of Alaska; and Tokyo International University America.


A practicing, professional artist since 1973, Thompson has established a formidable artistic reputation over the past forty years as one of the most thoughtful and intriguing painters, printmakers and educators from the pacific northwest region of the country. Thompson’s work has been featured in numerous international and nationally recognized art exhibitions at prominent museums and galleries throughout his career and is included in public and private collections throughout the United States and abroad. A number of public and private entities have commissioned Thompson to create bodies of art works for their respective institutions. Exhibition in both, solo and group shows brought the attention of publishing houses that subsequently reproduced selections of Thompson’s art works as book covers published in several editions. Thompson has been the recipient of awards, honors, grants, fellowships, purchase prizes and artist residencies as an artist and educator.


Thompson’s mid-career touring exhibition, James B. Thompson: The Vanishing Landscape was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) to support the tour of his works to established venues throughout the western states region of the United States through 2011. His international solo touring exhibition of, James B. Thompson: The Visual Language of Ancient Scotland opened at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Oregon and travelled to The Orkney Museum, Scotland UK for exhibition in 2010 before touring to additional venues (courtesy of the Orkney Archaeological Society) in Kirkwall and Harray for exhibition in 2011. His recent body of work, French Curve: Where The River Bends was exhibited internationally as a solo show at La Porte Peinte Centre Pour Les Arts in Noyers sur Serein, France in the fall of 2012 where he undertook an artist residency abroad. In 2012, Thompson also completed a new experimental body of works in the medium of kiln-formed glass, Elemental Mutability: An Exploration in Glass during his artist residency at Bullseye Glass in Portland, Oregon for which solo and group exhibitions are being planned.


The exhibition for Thompson’s current body of new work, Linear Metaphysics: Contemporary Mark- Making and Time-Based Art Works opened in 2013 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. This is also the site for a planned major retrospective exhibition of Thompson’s work scheduled to open in 2016. An accompanying book on Thompson and his work as an artist and educator has also been proposed for publication in conjunction with this future retrospective exhibition. In the meantime, the documentary film on Thompson and his dual roles as artist and educator, James B. Thompson: An Investigation Of Place has been produced by JSA Storyworks for the Hallie Ford Museum of Art that can be viewed online at his website.




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