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Daily Art Moment: Barbara Earl Thomas

“I think about salvation and redemption, where in the world it might come from. Who and what in the end will save us from ourselves. One can only imagine what shape any God might take.”

Barbara Earl Thomas

With this work and related pieces, Barbara Earl Thomas explored humanity’s relationship with nature. Depictions of the elements—fire, wind, water, earth—swirl around huddled figures; she portrays them as small characters within this dynamic scene, suggesting the power of external forces upon us. While the picture strikes a biblical tone (is that an angel in the top left?), it can also be seen as a broader cosmological statement about understanding our place in the “firmament,” as the artist told me. At the time she made this work and its companions, Thomas was painting in egg tempera, a medium that enabled her to layer rich colors onto the paper and achieve a glowing luminosity. Playing with light has continued to be an important part of Thomas’s practice and viewers in the Northwest can see recent examples of her large scale cut paper compositions in an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum and in a recently installed steel-cut window commission for the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland.

Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Barbara Earl Thomas (American, born 1948), A Fire in the Landscape, 2003. Egg tempera on paper. Gift of Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman, 2017.78.3 © unknown, research required