Admirers of Jeremy Thomas’sculpture should
be grateful to a thief. Thomas came to the College of Santa Fe to study
Studio Arts as a painter and printmaker, both of which he had been doing
since high school, even apprenticing with a master printmaker in his
native Oklahoma. However one semester while moving out of his dormitory,
boxes and bags of his possessions piled around as he loaded them into
his truck, the wooden box which held all of his brushes and painting
supplies, went missing. One moment it was on the curb, the next it was
gone. Thus ended Thomas’ career as a painter. The next semester he took
a sculpting class and never really turned back.
While Thomas is happy to converse about theory and concept, he is most content thinking of himself as a maker of objects rather than as an “Artist.” To him the label of “artist” is a mantle placed onto a person by society, and one which in the current day has as much to do with pop trends and market trends as it does with the production of great work. He is insistent that making objects is an impulse that all humans have, though perhaps in varying degrees and expressed in different ways. Some people make pies or spread-sheets, some make books or sculptures.
It is the pragmatic that draws Thomas. Asked about his influences he asserts that his primary influences do not come from the realm of art but rather from everyday living. “I don’t eat, sleep, and breathe art,” he comments, though with the caveat that when an opportunity arises he does take advantage of seeing what new ideas his contemporaries are exploring. His discovery of metal-working arose in a similar, practical, way. Thomas had been sculpting with stone and asked someone to show him how to forge his own chisel. This was the start of his exploration of forging techniques and after a time he gave up working with stone to work full time with metal. One of the key aspects of blacksmithing that intrigued Thomas was that it was the first process that he had tried that he really felt he had to work at, that posed a challenge not easily solved. He interned with Tom Joyce (recipient of a MacArthur genius grant) and later worked in Santa Fe as a blacksmith creating items as diverse as fireplace screens and light fixtures, but always continuing to make the objects of “art”.
His current sculpting technique of inflating steel forms was something he stumbled upon while doing a demo for one of his sculpture classes. He became fascinated with the possibilities and ability to make the work more complex. Steel, Thomas says, is quite malleable and actually a lot like clay (though admittedly it only exhibits those characteristics at upwards of 2800 degrees Fahrenheit.) Thomas welds forms together than he can then heat and inject with pressurized air, inflating, or “growing” them into their final shape. The final pieces contain paradox: metal molded by air, sensual forms in forceful fetish-finish primary colors gleaned from tractor manufactures. These sculptures are changeable (as one continuously finds new approaches in their creases, angles, and wrinkles); they allow a dialogue between viewer and work much in the way Thomas says he engages in an ongoing dialogue, a give and take, with his materials. As he says, “Art is the science of play,” a creed that Thomas seems to take to heart, both in his work and in his life.