Eliza Thomas at Wally Workman Gallery | Austin, TX

Untitled Moon and Branches, 2011 by Eliza Thomas

Review by Jill Conner

The new series of black and white paintings by Eliza Thomas are intricate. They navigate the viewer through fields of gray, the motif of uncertainty, while bringing one into thickets of branches, blossoms and leaves. Naturalism is a significant subject for the artist since its form is at once lyrical and rhythmic, bearing a strong resemblance to Asian calligraphy. Also known as the dynamic moving line, Thomas’ paintings connect nature to the larger scope of humanity by embellishing the illusion of the third dimension, located within the representation of the outlying landscape. Her palette, moreover, captures a wishful, open space that is immediate yet ephemeral. This selection of work marks the artist’s foray away from color and into the complexity of two tones, created by the wash and line of ink and paint across the sheer surface of rice paper.

Oak Study I is a large piece that features a web of black branches intersecting within similar silhouettes of gray, stalling movement and bringing pause. Two larger panels titled Distance and Oak Study V expand on the visual vista even though the second piece appears interlaced with branch-like forms. In both paintings, a horizontal line splits the composition in half, rendering a foreground and background, which pushes the eye to wander throughout the artist’s layered traces.

Untitled 9, 2011 by Eliza Thomas

The rush of white that appears in No Return suggests fluid movement rather than a static portrait of naturalism. However Shadow Study is less elusive, capturing the spider-like gray form of vines that are nearly swamped by the pale color of rice paper. An exceptional series of blossom studies appear in For Gary, Wild Orchids, and Untitled 9, using the traces of ink wash and acrylic to define these icons of nature as objects of a contemplative ambiance.
Eliza Thomas’s abstractions stand out as the strongest works of art in this new selection of work due to the fact that their ambiguity keeps them suspended within the space of interpretation. Having studied sumi-e ink painting with the Japanese Zen master, Shozo Sato, Thomas utilized her studies in black and white to commune with the moving line that has wound itself throughout the vast history of Asian art. The artist’s paintings, however, remain contemporary as each panel reveals a different kind of creative experimentation with traditional Western media.