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January 10 - February 14, 2004, at DoubleVision Gallery West Hollywood

by Judith Christensen

"Emptiness of Form," 1999, encaustic, 24 x 88".

There’s geometry--straight lines, perfect circles, and precise hexagons. Then there’s reality--horizon lines, planets and moons, and honeycomb in a beehive. In his encaustic panels, Matthew Thomas blends geometry’s exactitude and nature’s inexactitude with an elegance that is richly satisfying.

Included in this exhibit are some of Thomas’ drawings on rice paper that, although they stand alone as completed work, seem to be preliminary studies of the geometric forms that appear in his encaustic work. When Thomas embeds these methodical constructs in the richly pigmented wax surface, he imbues the purity of the geometry with an earthy sensuality. Even the framing of the smaller (8” x 10”) pieces echoes this balanced commingling. Thomas eschews the rigid, rectangular frame and precision-cut mat, yet maintains the essence of a formal frame. In its place is a luscious mat-shaped encaustic panel that, though basically flat and predominantly monochromatic, has the softness of a silk pillow and the depth of a smooth lake surface.

Many of Thomas’ panels seem like compressed versions of his sensuous installations of the mid-1990’s. They have the same textural lushness, scrumptious colors and fusion of organic and graphic forms. One exception is Emptiness of Form (1999). A central black square is flanked on each side by one white square and, at each end, by another narrow black panel that is one-third the width of the other three. Four of the five rectangles are, in a sense, empty--just black or white. Still, Thomas’ title is an ironic choice for a piece so saturated with formal qualities. In the center is Thomas’ signature wax-embedded linear form--a square inside the larger black square. The inner square is tight, dense with lines. Leading out and away from it are vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines forming other squares, as well as diamonds that appear as arrows pointing to empty white forms on each side, and to the wall above and below. There is movement here in the alternating black and white squares that read both from left to right and out from the center and, more powerfully, there is movement from the dense center to the rarefied emptiness beyond.

“Untitled,"2003, assembled installation,
24 x 24" each of nine panels.

“Untitled," 2003,
encaustic, 10 x 8".

“Untitled" 2003, graphite on
paper, 48 x 31 1/2".

This is the first solo exhibition for Thomas since his three-year hiatus to immerse himself in the study of Buddhism. The media he utilizes for these paintings--pencil, graphite, ink, encaustic, copper and gold leaf and fabric--are ideal for exploring the tension between entities and characteristics that, though opposite, complement each other, such as density and emptiness, black and white, organic and geometric, movement and stillness, randomness and systematic order, conflict and harmony.

Occasionally, we find ourselves in a physical setting that evokes a complex physiological reaction. Perhaps we’re perched on the pinnacle of a hill overlooking a sweeping valley or standing at the base of a Sequoia gazing up at its remarkable magnitude. We feel a magnification in the intensity of all our senses while, at the same time, the experience infuses us with a rare serenity. Matthew Thomas’ encaustic paintings have the ability to evoke the same sort of rich response--they both stimulate and calm.