HEIDI THOMPSON: THERE IS NO ANSWER
A REVIEW BY JOHN K. GRANDE
Attuned to the artist’s role as a medium, Heidi Thompson works with the physics of nature. The artist becomes a conduit for energy, engaging in a painterly process that involves intuition and an inner dynamic so contrary to the expressionist works Thompson produced earlier in her career.
These paintings are anti-form and all about the physics of the moment that exists in many moments, in fact stands outside time. Therein lies the challenge and the invitation! We are not involved in recognizing anything when we look at a Heidi Thompson painting. We are receivers looking into a brilliant spectacle.
A series of gestures leads to an event that the artist is part of. After priming the canvas, Thompson textures its surface with random clumps and splatters of gesso and sand. After this dries, she seals the porous, rough surface with another coat of primer. The process is ongoing and all about revealing what is already there. The combinatory ways that paint and matter come together become the artist’s guide. Neither dominating, nor controlling the outcome of a composition, Heidi Thompson is able to work with the medium of paint, deliberately flicking the material with a small fan brush in a controlled splattering thus orchestrating the colour, light and surface vibration.
Chaos and a conscious control exist in tandem. The artist becomes the balance between spirit and matter. It is magic how a painting comes about. The canvas becomes a receiver that accepts the artist’s intervention, and the artist distill the effects as they build up, occasionally removing paint, or orchestrating the event and actions.
The ultimate feeling these paintings conjure up is akin to sound, or atmospheres with background radiance. Visually we feel the painter’s controlled actions, but as an event that is not frozen in time as if caught in the parentheses of intention. Instead, the action suggests continual and conscious mutability of the medium with change ever present and this unknown quantity - energy.These paintings have depths and as we observe the microcosmic details close-up we sense a distancing, and close-up could be far away. Ultimately there is no distance, and microcosmic could as readily be macrocosmic.
As “abstract” art, if ever the term had a precise meaning as all paintings occupy real space and time, Heidi Thompson’s process is closer to Mark Tobey, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Indian-born Natvar Bhavsar for her recent paintings have a soulful radiance, and are part of a fluid reading of reality. Thompson does not perceive art as a building process whereby the object becomes a contained and containable result of actions.
Depending on her state of mind, Thompson will chose one of several painting techniques and approaches.Her recent work usually is about constructing--to build up of layers of fine lines so they become a consummate map of multiple actions we read depths into. The process of creating and building up results in a delicate interweave, a field of coloured lines that cover the canvas in a very conscious and deliberate way. Every speck, every dot, or splatter seems to be carefully examined, felt, and applied. The painting ultimately manifests and resonates intuitively with an unconscious dimensionality.
Particle physics comes to mind when looking at each of these paintings, for they engage in a dialogue of form and content. There is no labeling or identification with conventional representation, nor is the shaping, or containment of form part of the language of Thompson’s art. Superficially they can be compared to Seurat’s pointillist paintings such as A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884) for the particularization of matter ends up creating a kind of tonal vibration throughout. This will send a chill up your spine if you tune into it.
Contemplative and poetic, these paintings by Heidi Thompson invite contemplation for the surface carries a gentle and harmonious action while remaining set in the materiality of the moment. And this materiality suggests an infinite and invisible journey, one we are all embarked on, that is ongoing. Thompson’s paintings evoke a real nature in that her process is less about the ego-systems of historical progression that Abstract Expressionism and modernism were all about, but instead suggests a basic respect for the ecosystem of body and mind and spirit and the nature that all art is part of.
From molecular to cosmic, these paintings are not trapped in a world of built and projected imagery, but involve a dialogue between self and other, and embrace an inter-cultural vision of painting whose codes and cues remain open, receptive, less about containment than suggestion, intuited and momentary inception, and the progression is for us to discover with our eyes, our senses, without judgment. We perceive proprioceptively and we feel what we perceive. Perception becomes a history of understanding that stems from childhood through to old age, and this history involves a language of bodily response, visuality and recognition. What becomes most interesting is the way we perceive without recognition as part of our cognitive and bodily physical essence.
Heidi Thompson’s paintings present fields of events, all simultaneous and relativistic. We experience her vision consciously in this way, and but the feeling these works project is of unconscious effect. As Heidi Thompson says, “When one's sharpened attention is directed inwardly, not to the imagination but to the physical sensations, another dimension of reality takes place. Experiencing this subtle, vibratory feeling within my body has influenced my painting style, technique and image.“
Chance and change are in these paintings, a controlled chaos, as sensitive as whispers, tiny as traces, with a flow as immeasurable and hidden as rivulets, and with fine lines, those tones, various shades, chiming colour always. As tiny as each of these contributing elements is, they are central elements, and build into resonant rhythm - this artist’s crescendo is modest, flexible, ongoing and resonant.
Heidi Thompson’s art is, like nature, that eternal backdrop to everything we do and live with and in, is part of an endless cycle. That is a great mystery to be part of" - John K. Grande
THE ESSENCE OF MANIFESTATION: THE ABSTRACTIONS OF HEIDI THOMPSON
JAMES D. CAMPBELL CANADIAN ART CRITIC AND CURATOR
“The progression of a painter's work as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity… toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea… and the idea and the observer.. To achieve this clarity is inevitably to be understood.” -- Mark Rothko
It is a rare phenomenon to experience abstractions that speak directly to the heart. No word of representation, but the idiom is immediately and immanently understood. Not as a panacea for existential conditions outside of painting, but a tribute to an intrinsically healing art that values clarity above all else.
Claude Tousignant, one of Canada’s premier abstractionists, has often spoken of his insistent desire to create paintings that are objects in their own right. He wants to void all referents to a world outside paintings that are made to induce sensation alone. Indeed, for him, the sovereign thinghood of a painting Is the only signification worth fighting for. Well, his remark resonates when we spend time with Heidi Thompson’s resplendent new work. But her paintings are far from mute or self-contained objects, and are not predicated upon emptying out all references to the external world. Instead, they seem to irradiate the void with something that is palpably Mind, and well, they simply are.
Indeed, the remarkable thing about her abstractions is the lasting claim they stake upon us. They are magnetic things. They pull us into their orbits, and we are complicit in the making of meaning through contemplation. In this sense, they are like mandalas, mantras and mudras. They coax out of us the sounds of silence, body and soul. Through their sensuous presences, they lead us not into taxonomy but into an appreciation of the colour field as a living entity, somehow inhaling and exhaling alongside us.
The dynamism of this work is in the reception, not in the utopian signifiers of colour and form. The myriad luminescences that unfold in the surfaces of these paintings are like solar flares, but without any deleterious effects.Instead, they settle within us like tiered textures of light that buoy us up.
The philosopher Michel Henry defines life -- within a phenomenological perspective -- as that which possesses "the faculty and the power to feel and to experience oneself in every point of its being". Similarly, Heidi Thompson in her abstractions incarnates life as force and affect through chroma and chromatic density alone, and does so in order to lead us out of darkness into joy. Hers’ are paintings of radical immanence, which herald the way towards pure thought. Her paintings are pulsating and effulgent affirmations of life. The painter Jaison Cianelli has said:
“When you see a clear river you're less afraid to go out into its deep waters. It's peaceful. You stay in it longer, and you even let your feet touch its bottom. Like a crystal clear river, a clear mind is the key to being at peace and living in the present moment. A mind filled with the murkiness of worry and haste is a confused and overloaded mind that will increase stress, lower productivity and lead the way to unhappiness and ill health. I have found that by painting intuitively, not only do I clear my mind, but I receive spiritual healing seated deep within my heart.” 
Heidi Thompson is a painter of intuition. Her work speaks directly to heart and mind. She also practices meditation. Perhaps this practice inflects and sustains paintings that are about clarity, above all. If I call her painting ‘healing’ here, it is because I have been changed by her art. Indeed, I salute her resilient spirit of affirmation, meditative intensity – and, not least, her pursuit of the clarity of which Rothko so eloquently spoke.
1. See Michel Henry, at http://www.wikipedia.org/.
1. Painting a Spiritual Journey Inward - Art as Meditation
by Jaison Cianelli http://www.newageinfo.com/painting-spiritual-medit...
James D. Campbell is an independent curator and art writer living in Montréal who has published numerous monographs, essays and reviews. Recently curated exhibitions, which were accompanied by catalogues, include Ron Martin, The Geometric Painting: 1981-1985 and Murray Favro: The Guitars 1966-1989 at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, and Abstract Practices II at The Power Plant in Toronto. He also lectures on photography and contemporary art and is a regular contributor to art periodicals such as C Magazine.