Dots, circles and ellipses sputter forth from Memories of Making Special, currently on view at El Museo. The exhibit – Phyllis Thompson’s first in nearly three decades – serves not only to reintroduce the prolific artist to the Buffalo art community, but occupies a vantage point from which viewers can see work from the 1980s through today; each tracing a line of visual continuity unbroken by time and circumstance.
Thompson’s principal artistic preoccupation has been monotypes, whose yo-yo-like forms and Twombly-esque zeal for line and spatial plumbing have equally concerned the artist and her production for the better part of four decades. The work presented therein becomes meditations on individuals, feelings, memories, and experiences, which are replayed through visual representation and allusion in smaller self-contained bodies of work within the exhibit itself.
The watershed moment in Thompson’s career wherein the artist begins to form the visual vocabulary she flexes against decades later is tucked away in a quiet corner of the exhibit, in a series of monotypes produced in tandem with Leslee Stradford, all of which are titled Transitions in Self-Awareness from 1988. These pieces become the moment in which Thompson begins to develop the yo-yo-like forms that would come to characterize her later work, and present abstracted forms that read as pizza, spoons, vases, and pom-poms in turn. This body of work presents moments of prescience which prefigures a career engaged in abstract forms. It also allows for moments of slippage between haphazardness and control, affording Thompson’s practice a spark of contemporaneity that transcends time.
The most recent work presented here is a series of what appear to be portraits, but are instead more monotypes. This vein finds Thompson’s most visually grounded elements to be reproductions of her ancestors, whose solemn, reserved eyes stare forward into time, envisioning a moment where they may be both physically and systematically unshackled. Thompson achieves this unshackling through the physical manipulation of the figures, removing them from the picture. This bodily removal leaves an echo of whiteness in the composition, and fading more still, until their silhouettes are akin to wallpaper. In this space, in the removal of physical form, Thompson’s spiritually present predecessors are abstracted; falling back and melding into wallpaper that is replete with vines, curlicue and blocks of color, all of which recall the artist’s earliest explorations in monotypes.
Memories of Making Special is on view through May 27, 2017 al El Museo, located at 91 Allen Street Buffalo, New York. The closing reception on May 27 from 2-4pm will include a workshop featuring a brief demonstration by Phyllis Thompson on some of her techniques and processes, followed by hands-on experimentation with monotype and relief printing. ($5 suggested donation, free for El Museo Members)