Marcia Thompson

Sculptures of paint

in the catologue of the exhibition 'Overlap"

with Marcia Thompson and Marcelo Krasilicic

Maybe it is a matter of time. Time and patience, and paint. Many of Marcia Thompson's works result from processes of enduring work, repetitive acts founded on the most basic grammar of painting and sculpting. The painting is a memory of actions; looking at it is also to some extent tracing its beginnings, sometimes all the way back to the painterly materials and untouched support.

Dots are added to dots, meticulously, row after row. Sometimes it takes weeks or months for the paint to harden. In other works, sheets of white paper are torn by hand into identical rectangles and put into transparent boxes, oil-sticks rolled and carefully stacked in the same way, or cut into dices, or shaped as rough-cut balls inside the acrylic cubicles. All these works reflect on the traditional materials of painting, reduced to their most basic materiality, treated sometimes with the greatest sensuality, sometimes with the keen observing eye of someone making a systematic study on the relationship between form and material.

But then there are these contrary works: seemingly quick, easy, demanding a minimum of physical effort and material. - Or with the frantic energy of an instant action, an apparently endless worm of oil paint or silicone meandering on the surface of the work, layer on layer like the serpents and dragon-tails in Nordic and Celtic ornamentation.

Marcia Thompson examines the structure and materiality of paint - and plays with its qualities. I take a look at the painting in my living room: a thin fabric of tulle, more hung than stretched on the stretcher, with big rugged dots of oil paint clutching from the thin and semitransparent textile. The composition is irregular, the dots are literally hanging on the tulle, as if they were on their way sliding or slipping down the surface.

This downward movement creates an interplay between gravity made visible and the almost weightless support. The tensions inside of the work become literal, because of the opposition between the light, transparent and almost immaterial support and the heavy materiality of the paint. Through the canvas, you can discern the shadows shed on the wall, thus enhancing the three-dimensional aspects of the work.

Many of her works relates to white, to whiteness and transparency bordering on milky white. It is the pale whiteness of innocence, of the palm of the dead widow, but, but also of meringues, whipped cream, semen and milk. White is usually the beginning of painting, the primer on the canvas, but also the final stage of adding highlights and volume to the shapes in figurative painting. It is also the colour of paper and parchment, or the canvas itself; the colour of what is taken for granted and of what is hidden by layers of paint. Once painted in bright colours, the pale whiteness of the antique marbles has been the ideal of classicist sculptors and theoreticians, of purists and puritans in art. From this tomb of reductionism, white is brought to the surface by Marcia Thompson, and treated with just as much sensuality as irreverence.

To play a game, you need a set of rules. These rules restrict on the one hand your range of choices, on the other they force you to invent and to combine within this narrow field of possibilities. Even a simple game usually proves to have an almost limitless range of possible combinations. Marcia Thompson's work evolves around a set of basic restrictions: starting from the white oil paint, she has continuously examined also other materials, like polyester resin, silicon glue or paste, oil sticks, dental plaster, wax - all relating in various degrees to the whiteness, fluidity and final solidity of oil paint. The frame is usually a square, at odd occasions a rectangle and sometimes replaced by a transparent, acrylic box. All the time three-dimensionality is enhanced, either by the bulky, protruding materiality of the paste, paint, resin or glue, or the transparency of the support itself. Often a plastic sheet is suspended over the stretcher, to be covered by flat silicone dots, opaque bodies of material creating a third visible layer with their shadows thrust on the wall behind. In other works, she puts a net or any other grid-like structure over the stretcher, and presses resin or white dental plaster through it from behind, creating a structure of worm-like shapes of stalactites protruding from the "canvas". In another series, she simply turned the back of the stretcher out, and then filed this quadrangle with paint or silicone in a jumble of intertwined strings.

Of course her work could be connected to minimalism. But in this particular case, minimalism becomes a silly word, relating to a whole tradition that is mostly remote from what Marcia Thompson is doing. In minimalism, the relationship to material is in general either negligible or subordinate. Material is used and exposed, but rarely examined as a quality, as a matter in itself.

It is much more adequate to view her works in relationship to a strain in the margins of minimalism and conceptualism, spiritual and mystical on the one hand, material and experimental on the other. Agnes Martin, speaking of "an experience that is wordless and silent" (in "The still and the silent in art", Agnes Martin, Writings/Schriften, Cantz Verlag 1991), has just like Marcia Thompson examined a range of possibilities within the field of whiteness. But her results are radically different, just as were Robert Ryman's and long before that Kasimir Malevitj's experiments with white geometrical shapes on white support. All of them have had their attention on the surface itself, emphasising the status of the work as a painting. In Marcia Thompson's works, surface is just a small part of a complex play with spatiality.

A lot closer related are the works of Piero Manzoni from the fifties, relief-like works in white called "Achromes". But even though the sculptural qualities of these works in kaolin, paper, felt, cotton, wool, rabbit fur, polystyrene, bread, stones etc are undeniable, Manzoni's prime interest was to expand the concept and definition of painting. The sculptural, not to say the aesthetic, aspects seem to have been more of unavoidable consequences from his conceptual aspirations than goals in themselves.

The crucial point in Marcia Thompson's work is the sculptural qualities of paint, and the spatial relationships between wall, surface and material. Already the act of painting - and over-painting - the surfaces white, as in the works of Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman, is a way of turning the painting into an object, instead of an illusionary or abstract image. But here the paint(silicon, resin, wax, etc) is treated as a sculptural material, and the canvas turned into a high relief, occasionally also extending behind a transparent support. Marcia Thompson's work make you realise again, that painting can reach far beyond the basic act of making images.

Pontus Kyander

Denmark, 2002.