Gates of Hell

Detail of Auguste Rodin's Gates of HellA detail shot of the massive Gates of Hell, by Auguste Rodin, at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia.


Ellsworth Kelly at the Barnes Foundation

Ellsworth Kelly in front of 'Sculpture for a large wall' at the Barnes Foundation. (Emma Lee/Newsworks) One of the best perks about working at a cultural institution like the Barnes Foundation is that occasionally I get to do something really cool. Usually, it’s something like visit the conservation lab to see what masterpiece is being saved from certain doom by the dedicated team of conservators, or listen to a guest lecture for staff only, from scientists who have been studying the pigments Continue reading

Reinstallation of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais

The reinstallation of Rodin's Burghers of Calais
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Aluminum Casting at Philadelphia Sculpture Gym

Aluminum Casting at Philadelphia Sculpture Gym

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to spend the whole day casting hot molten metal (aluminum) at a workshop I took at Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, with about 8 or 9 other people. That’s me with my hot-out-of-the-mold sculpture of an african mask medallion. I had a blast, and so did all the other sculptors there. Some of them had some prior experience (as I do), and for some this was their very first attempt at sculpture (way to go, public relations-specialist Colleen!) Darla at PSG says they’ll run this course frequently (monthly?), but if you’re the type who’s bothered by working all day in an unheated space in January, you might want to wait for warmer weather.



Sculpture by Louise Nevelson at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo © 2012 J. Thomson

Thinking big. Adding zeroes.

"blame" from Lorem Ipsum... © 2012 J. Thomson All rights reservedOn the (f)utility of labels in my studio practice

My studio practice differs from that of most artists I know in that I don’t simply go into my studio every day (or even every week) and just paint. And when people I’ve just met ask me what I do, the exchange typically goes like this: “I’m an artist.” “Oh really? What kind of pictures do you paint?” “Well, I do paint sometimes, but not exclusively, and when I do, it’s not usually pictures of anything, because I approach a painting as a three-dimensional object, not an illusion of space…” By this point, the person’s eyes are usually glazing over and darting around the room looking for an excuse to get away. Sometimes to save us both the embarrassment, I’ll simply say that I make abstract paintings (which isn’t really true). The typical response is “oh, that’s nice.” Or maybe, “My aunt was an abstract painter. She killed herself though.” Continue reading

Glass Bread Slices!

Glass bread slice © J. Thomson

I was a graduate student in the Glass department at Tyler School of Art, 1998-2000. During my first year there, I became interested in the theme of domesticity… and what’s more domestic than bread? Initially I made a sculpture out of wax and clay of an over-sized slice of bread. I lovingly poked each hole in the bread to make a realistic texture. Then I made a mold of it using a plaster-like refractory material in which I poured molten glass from the hot shop. While this worked really well, it was too time consuming and I could only get a single glass piece from each mold (since the glass sticks to the mold material, and has to be broken apart to get the glass out.) And I needed to produce more pieces (per my professors).

So I ended up making a wooden mold—essentially a plank of wood (soaked in water so it didn’t catch fire) with a bread-slice-shaped hole in the middle. For each slice I made, I lined the inside of the cavity with some material for texture, in this case lead shot and sand, and ladled molten glass into the mold. Using this method, I could crank out dozens of them in a single session in the hot studio.

I have to admit that I was looking for ways to make my glass uglier at the time… (I used the term “crunchy”). While all the undergrads, and some of the grad students were concerned with making pretty shiny happy glass, I was an Art student (with a capital A), not a student of crafts. Now I wish I had pushed it further. My hot hop partner A. J. Bocchino was making some beautiful “ugly” pieces, but I couldn’t afford all the copper and metals he was using.

These glass pieces came to light recently because an old friend of mine asked me if I still had any for sale. So I dug out the boxes from the back of my studio, photographed them, and now they’re available for sale again for the first time in more than ten years. $25 each includes shipping anywhere in the USA via USPS Priority Mail. Use the links below to order.

Wheat (sand)     Multigrain (shot)     Combo (sand+shot)

There are two kinds available: “wheat” bread (with a combination of sand and a little lead shot on the surface), and “multigrain” with lots of lead shot. They are just a little bigger than life size (about 6.5″ x 5″ x .5″ thick). The sand and/or shot is not glued to the glass in any way, so expect pieces of it to come off… I’ve seen them displayed on a wall, vertically on a shelf, or laid out horizontally on a table. Just be sure that the sand/lead shot won’t scratch the table surface you put them on.

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Kirby Vacuum: A personal mythology

Kirby vacuum drawing, © 2000 by J. Thomson. All rights reserved.

Yesterday I embarked on a new series of artwork that I’ve actually been thinking about for many years now (more than 10), based on a “personal mythology” I’ve developed. Using imagery from my past, I am creating multi-layered installations and sculpture/paintings (I love blurring the lines between the two) out of shapes cut from canvas and sewn together. Continue reading

Subverted domesticity/Urban glass houses (2000)

Subverted Domesticity:Urban House © 2000-2013 J. Thomson

Because it was the first time I’d lived in an urban neighborhood (I grew up in suburban Dallas/Garland area) I was also interested in the cultural differences of what “home” means. And since I’d made all those suburban glass houses, I thought I’d better make some urban ones too. These houses are modeled after the traditional idea of “house” (ie, the silhouette a child might draw), but they get their urban grittiness from inclusions such as brass keys and pieces of aluminum, which would melt and burn when the molten glass was poured in the mold.

They were displayed on individual shelves I made (just big enough for one house) but grouped closely together like a neighborhood of row-homes in urban Philadelphia. Some of the houses were clear enough that I found I could make them more interesting by collaging images onto the back. I actually made more “plain” houses, but they didn’t photograph as well as the few that I embellished with vintage photographs on the back. All of the embellished houses were sold, but I still have a few of the regular urban houses available. If you’re interested in purchasing one, drop me a note.

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Bread sculptures (1999-2000)

Bread house, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

During the Fall semester of 1999 I submitted this house sculpture made entirely out of bread for a critique and an exhibit of student work. It garnered high praise in the critique for its quiet, yet subversive quality, especially since I was a glass student and this had nothing to do with glass. To create it, I commissioned a metal sculptor to create a sturdy steel mold for this piece, so I could reproduce it at will. It takes about 3 lbs of bread dough (or about 3 times the size of a normal loaf). I showed the sculpture on a pedestal made of old bricks (context!) and allowed the bread to slowly mold and decay during the run of the show. It was like a slow performance (this photo was taken early in the run). By the end of the exhibit, the house had begun to warp in on itself as it dried out, and was consumed by mold on the inside.

Bolstered by the positive response, I became obsessed during the winter break with bread making. I made hundreds of loaves of all kinds. I’d never baked before, but I taught myself how, and I baked most of the bread in annealing ovens in the glass shop, or in the large gas kilns in the ceramics studio.

I even tried making life-size bread chairs. For my first go at it, I fabricated a steel mold of a life sized three-dimensional chair. I kneaded about 50 pounds of bread dough using the clay mixer in the ceramics department, and loaded my chair into the large gas kiln. Everyone around kept following the scent of fresh bread baking into the kiln room. I wish I had thought to take pictures of the process. Unfortunately, that first chair was a complete failure. When I got it back to my studio after it was baked, and unmolded it, it was so heavy that it couldn’t stand its own weight and collapsed within a minute or two. It was such a challenge just to knead all that dough, and load the mold into the kiln I decided a different approach was kneaded (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).

My next try was more successful. I found two old diner chairs in the dumpster, and stripped all the upholstery and padding away. After a few modifications, I was able to “upholster” the two chairs with bread dough. I loaded them into the glass annealing ovens this time (better control over temperature than the gas fired ceramics kiln) and baked them. Although the weight of the dough pulled the back off of one, it actually is more interesting because it lets the viewer see how they are made.

Bread Chairs, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

These pieces too were well received in critiques, and I decided to focus on my theme of “subverted domesticity” for my final semester in graduate school. Although I did abandon bread for the final exhibits, I did enjoy doing it and learned a lot during the process. And of course, I am still an avid baker at home today, but I usually eat the results now.