The Painting Center of New York City presents Thisness, a solo exhibition of paintings by Barbara Campbell Thomas, October 1-26, with an opening reception on October 3, 6:00 – 8:00 pm.
The Medieval theory of haecceity asserts individuality resides within a person’s or object’s thisness, the non-qualitative properties that make someone or something not just any someone or something, but particular. A haecceity is not a “wedding ring;” a haecceity is the specific band you wear on your finger, weighty with personal significance. Barbara Campbell Thomas’s paintings are equal parts paint, collage and fabric piecing set within the painting ground. Her paintings’ present construction, carefully evolved over the last fifteen years, reveals their thisness.
Thisness, in Barbara Campbell Thomas’s studio, is the coupling of painting with quilting, a fusion rooted in the artist’s simultaneous love for painting and her dissatisfaction with the narrow definition of abstract painting canonized in western art history. Five years ago, a different lineage opened up for Campbell Thomas when her mother taught her how to make quilts. The artist observes, “In the months following my mother’s quilting lessons, I spent most evenings piecing together quilt blocks. The visual thinking at work as I sewed together color and pattern was deeply linked to the paintings simultaneously underway in my studio. But the material was new and unfamiliar, and initially I could not see where my sewing machine met my paint brush. I continued this foray into quilt-making, propelled to make quilts by a visceral realization: had I lived just 150 or 200 years ago, I would likely not have been a painter, because such an identity would not have been readily open to me as a woman. Instead, I understood with eerie clarity, I would have made quilts. I started to see quilting as the flipside of painting, and immediately a new strain of influence and possibility opened up before me.”
Thisness, in Campbell Thomas’s paintings, is rooted in the particular physicality of commingled paint and fabric. But Campbell Thomas’s attentive working of paint, fabric and collage is not an end in itself; rather materiality is a conduit into the unfolding co-exploration of her own bodily thisness. Through painting she asks: What is it to make a painting as a body? What is it for a body to breath and also to paint? When does a body end and a painting begin? Such questions fan out across the surface of her paintings through rhythmic shifts of wobbly line and through repetition of simple shapes made at ever larger scales. The latter evoke patterns of inhalation and exhalation, linking repetition with rhythm. Along with the painting’s emanating linear elements, Barbara Campbell Thomas’s propensity toward high-keyed jolts of color evoke an ecstatic, unfolding space that plays with scale, and depth perception.
Barbara Campbell Thomas’s paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States, in North Carolina’s Weatherspoon Art Museum, The Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art, Marcia Wood Gallery in Atlanta and the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, MI. She received her BFA from Penn State, her MFA from the University of California, Berkeley, and she attended Yale Norfolk and Skowhegan. She recently received a 2018-2019 North Carolina Artists Fellowship. Upcoming exhibitions are planned for the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC. Barbara Campbell Thomas is an Associate Professor of Art at UNC Greensboro. She lives and works in Climax, NC.