Arts Visual Art

Songs from the Labyrinth is reality wrapped in a dream

Jesse Thomson makes dreamlike canvases // TJ Jans
Jesse Thomson makes dreamlike canvases // TJ Jans

“How would you describe your experience of a dream?” Jesse Thomas asks.

The bizarre sequences of events on the canvas have the look of the otherworldly visions of sleep. Recognizable images of people, objects and places emerge out of obscure cave-like backgrounds. According to Thomas’s artist statement for Songs from the Labyrinth, a work of art is understood to have its own structures, distinct from reality. Art is understood through its connection to the real world and the viewer’s experiences. Thomas explains that, even though there is a lot going on in these paintings and charcoal drawings, there are discernible patterns. One example is that, in a number of the works, you can see highly realistic views out the window.

“I’m originally from New Orleans, so I find these snowy landscapes very exotic,” Thomas says. “The Canadian landscape is having a big effect on me. You know, you go to Jasper and, whoa, but I can’t quite do a straight mountain landscape. Although it is awfully beautiful, I love just standing there.”

The images are surreal, with scenes overlapping and melding into one another. It gives an impression of a double-exposed film, unrelated episodes of memories, history and culture overlapping. The images do not have traditional perspective; rather, each episode within the painting takes on its own viewpoint, creating strange movement.

Thomas is interested in the connection between the physical world and the ever-changing constructed lens through which we interpret culture, history and even our memories. Depictions of real people, science-fiction scenes, nature and imagination merge as the artist explores the relationship between subjective and empirical experience.

“The idea is that these paintings are songs from the labyrinth,” he says, tapping his temple with a wry smile.

Thomas joined the University of Alberta as an associate professor in July 2012. The influence of Thomas’ new residence shows strongly in these works, with recognizable scenes of the U of A campus peeking through windows in three of the pieces.

The artist’s aim was to see if it was possible to bring elements of culture and history together with more personal elements: memory, nostalgia and desire. Thomas was interested in exploring what would happen if these constructed aspects of life communed in a painting alongside concrete details of the physical world. Through his explorations of those ideas, he found certain aspects remained fleeting to discuss.

“Some of our experiences are just visual, and evade accurate translation into words,” he says.

Until Sat, Feb 14
Works by Jesse Thomas
FAB Gallery, University of Alberta

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