BA Thomas creates paintings of interiors that explore the relationship between space, time, and human experience. Working from the notion that the spaces we inhabit inform who we are, she studies how people use and adapt space, and how the interconnected items in a room become characters of sorts. In Thomas’ work, questions of privacy arise. The intimate becomes public, and vice versa. Source materials for her paintings are culled from online platforms, magazines, and observational drawings. These are paintings with conceptual layers, encompassing ideas surrounding domesticity, psychology and the pervading and historical trope of the memento mori.
“Painting is a slow, disciplined way of thinking. The act of seeing, like meditation, is focused attention. For me, a painting is a visual manifestation of thoughts. I use the medium of paint because it’s mutable, imperfect, honest, and holds the presence of a human hand and heart. Paint captures life.”
At the heart of Thomas’ work is an exploration of space and perspective. She distorts the representation of pictorial elements through the medium of paint and the properties of a flat surface. In her paintings, space breaks apart and behaves irrationally; objects tilt at strange angles as if seen from different viewpoints. The overall compositional perspective is slightly voyeuristic, akin to peering down into a dollhouse or theater set. The representation of space in Thomas’ work is at once confounding and familiar, both impossible and somehow believable.
When it comes to construction, layering is integral to her work. Thomas focuses on the order in which marks are placed, often leaving hints of the previous layer visible as patterns, shapes, textures, and color harmonies emerge. The history of layering is clued in through the incised lines that remain mostly intact from the initial compositional sketch. In a broader sense, Thomas layers multiple spaces within each other. Her paintings are objects that exist in conjunction with other objects in a room. A painting of an interior is a portal into an imagined place and time. A space within a space.
You mentioned pulling source imagery from Airbnb, Instagram and Zoom. Are your paintings representations of singular spaces that you then distort? Or are you collaging or compositing elements from different images? Talk a little bit more about how you build images compositionally.
“Most times I composite elements from a variety of places, so the interiors are constructed. I’m always accumulating and organizing source material as I move through life and see things that intrigue me in some way. I have a stack of sketchbooks filled with drawings and collages of chairs, objects, and abstract geometric designs that I configure into imagined spaces. I cut patches of color out of magazines and create color studies. On my computer, I have a folder of my own photography and a folder of images pulled from outside sources, both with thousands of images. Airbnb has been a great resource because I can search all around the world and understand how people live in those places through photos of their homes. I’m part of an ongoing portrait-drawing group and we meet through Zoom, so that platform has made me consider the overall perspective of peering into a person’s space through this small window of a computer screen.
While I’m collecting these images, I’m also writing ideas in my journal - typically thoughts or stories that arise from daily life. It usually just makes sense to pair an idea with a specific object that I’ve come across, and it’s just a matter of combing through to find it. I make compositional studies on paper before I move to the painting.”
There’s such a fascinating relationship between flatness and depth in your work, both spatially and psychologically. Do you think about space’s impact on the psyche when you make paintings?
“An interior is a meeting place for exploring the vastness of space and the intimacy of the human psyche. When I create these imagined rooms, I consider the reciprocity between the exterior, interior, and the human psychology affected by their dialogue. I think we can all relate to the experience of being inside of a room, where all of the sensorial elements combine to form an atmosphere. That atmosphere is what I’m after in my paintings, and I push and pull depth in my work to create that visual charge..”
What has been influencing your work of late?
“I’m inspired by so many painters, but at the moment I’m feeding my work with outside influences. I’m enamored with Ilse Crawford’s philosophy and design work. Her humanistic approach of design as a frame for life has been a huge influence to my artistic practice. Concepts from psychology, architecture, interior design, and furniture design trickle into my work. I recently read Brian Greene’s book "The Elegant Universe", which shattered my understanding of the world in a brilliant way. I feel more confident abstracting space and time in my paintings when I understand them as malleable in the physical world. In art, I’m influenced by Les Nabis, Fauvism, Cubism, the Pattern and Decoration movement, and Faux Naïf.”
How was your experience at the Joshua Tree residency? And did the difference in the landscape impact your approach to painting?
“In Joshua Tree, I spent a lot of time absorbing. New patterns emerged from my surroundings. I observed light and shadow, how the position of the sun affected the colors of the rock formations, and how the subtle beiges of the sand and stone varied against the spiked plants.
I felt like I was placed into one of my own paintings. When I arrived and saw the furniture, objects, and spaces available to me, new avenues opened up for experimentation. At home I typically cull source material from outside sources, but at the residency I created physical arrangements of objects in different sites around the residency premises and in the Joshua Tree National Park. I designed tableaux and started each painting from life. Subtle distortions in designing compositions were made by physically moving my perspective of viewing the scene. The most formative part of my experience was this new approach in the initial design phase of creating compositions on-site. I combined set design with painting and added video components. ”