Thomas emerges at SVMA
ARTIST LARRY THOMAS will share his latest work, including an installation of prayer flags, at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.
Like so many in the creative field, life got in the way for Larry Thomas. The lifelong artist spent many years as a teacher, dean and eventually interim president of the San Francisco Art Institute, which fueled his desire to share with the next generation but left him little time to explore his own creative side.
“I never really left the studio, I just couldn’t really focus. I did administrative work for a long, long time,” Thomas said.
But in 2005, he retired from the institute, retreating to a quiet corner of Fort Bragg on the Mendocino Coast.
There, he found focus on meandering walks through the fields near the crash of the ocean.
He took to his studio, amassing new works that represent the changes in his life while also referencing his existing love of native cultures.
The work Thomas has created in recent years will be on display at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art from Oct. 12 to Dec. 30. Entitled “Larry Thomas: Coastal Echoes,” the exhibition highlights a variety of different mediums Thomas has explored in his recent work.
Entering the exhibit, guests walk through a kaleidoscope of color. Inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, Thomas hand-painted hundreds of strips of paper with painstakingly detailed calligraphy – his own version of a medieval script called Unical. He wrote random lines from Vajrasattva, the “100 Syllable Mantra” featured in “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” Using wax seals of Chinese and Tibetan symbols, Thomas adhered long strips of colorful silk to the flags that seem to float from the ceiling.
“I just wanted to play with the brilliant colors,” Thomas said.
Brilliant colors are not generally Thomas’ bread and butter. After the entryway, the first stage of the exhibit include his “Hawk Fields” series. The hawks flying over the field near his home served as his muse as he implemented an array of muted, natural colors to give abstract representation of flight using layers of paint cut through with pencil to create a textured design.
“He’s clearly a master of his medium and his materials,” said Kate Eilertsen, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, who curated the exhibit, Thomas’ first solo show in years.
In the final piece of the exhibition, Thomas showcases his intricately detailed “Winter Solstice” series of ink drawings enhanced with acrylic washes and beeswax. The work includes script from the Tillamook people, a tribe native to Oregon who had a spoken language that was never committed to paper outside of one dictionary written by an anthropologist in 1935. Thomas learned the dictionary was held at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, where he had to make his case as to what he intended to do with the script before he could see the book.
“It was quite a journey, quite a search,” he said.
Thomas’ work is joined by the sister exhibition, “The Art of Handmade Paper,” which explores the history and art of papermaking from around the world curated by Simon Blattner. It includes an ancient 17-foot scroll of handmade Japanese paper, among contemporary works.
The exhibit opens with a members’ preview today, Friday, Oct. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. An artists’ conversation with Thomas, Bill Berkson, Charles Hobson and Eilertsen will take place on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 2 p.m.
The museum is located at 551 Broadway.
Admission is $5 for individuals, $8 for families, and is free to the public on Wednesdays. Children and students up to grade 12 are always free.
The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Learn more at svma.org.