The theme of this exhibition emerged like a hidden spring bubbling up. So many of the works in Thomas Paquette’s oeuvre feature views of water in its various incarnations, that it became an obvious touchstone for an exhibition. “Touching on Water” is a collection of over 60 of his paintings in oil and in gouache dating from 1992 through 2014, each composition brought to focus by some form of water, the almost-too-common-to-be-noticed element, be it a lake, rain, river, or snow. The omnipresence of water in a water-blessed land, coupled with our absolute dependence on it, often renders it invisible to conscious attention. Paquette’s paintings make it reappear to our eyes and minds, reminding us to pay attention to this most common but extraordinary element in our daily lives.
The artist’s notable body of oil paintings is a striking contrast in scale to the gouache works featured in this exhibition. Paquette addresses through both media the element of water within the natural environment. Water is celebrated here as a fundamental component of the land: it sustains life both vegetal and animal. Without it there would be no landscape. This theme of water as sustainer also serves to unite the subject matter with its audience, for without water there would be no viewer. Human beings and the earth they inhabit are inextricably linked as dependents upon water, and Paquette pays homage to this life-giving force through his expertly-rendered oil and gouache works. The necessity of water to the existence of the works of art themselves is imbedded within the artist’s choice of medium. Gouache, being an incarnation of watercolor, inherently owes its existence to water as well.
The landscapes curated for this exhibition are almost entirely void of any human reference. They are pure studies of land and water in their most untouched state. Except for the rare inclusion of a road or power line, there is virtually no evidence of civilization which has been incorporated. These compositional choices, whether consciously or subconsciously executed, express Paquette’s sense of conservation. His paintings focus our attention on the trees and the forests and the rivers – and not on human manipulation of the earth. It is not until we seek similar scenes of nature in our own lives that we realize the difficulty in finding such untouched expanses of pristine beauty in the modern wilderness. The lack of human influence in Paquette’s landscape paintings serves to encourage us to tread lightly and leave no mark.
In a culture where bigger is often viewed as more important, many of the works of Thomas Paquette stand in contradiction to this commercial notion. In addition to his primary focus in oil painting, Paquette is also well known for his gouache works on paper. The surprising nature of those works comes not from the subject matter or technique employed but rather from the size. The majority of the gouaches are shockingly small – most no larger than the palm of your hand.
The uniquely small gouaches of this celebrated artist are engaging in their sheer dimensions. The works physically draw us to them by necessity, their size demanding a close proximity in order to truly be seen. The diminutive stature of each work instigates audience movement, prompting us to move closer to the work and into a shared spatial context. Once within the viewer’s “personal space” the magnetic little paintings have now created an opportunity for direct engagement with their audience. In this age of fabricated concepts and monumental installations, the power inherent in Paquette’s beautiful gouaches is their ability to cultivate an intimate setting and then personally invite us to share it with them.
Thomas Paquette (b. 1958, Minneapolis) received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from Bemidji State University in 1985 and began painting full-time just after earning his MFA from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 1988, which he attended on a full graduate fellowship. He maintained a studio in Maine in the 1990s and now lives and works in Pennsylvania.
His landscape paintings have been featured in solo exhibitions in prominent galleries in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Maine as well as in solo exhibitions at the Rockwell Museum, Evansville Museum of Art, Erie Art Museum, Georgia Museum of Art, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, the Wildling Art Museum, the American Academy in Rome, Bennington Center for the Arts, Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Hoyt Institute of Fine Art, Quick Center for the Arts, and Roger Tory Peterson Institute, among other museums and contemporary art centers.
Paquette is the recipient of several fellowships and honors, including artist residencies at the American Academy in Rome, at the Aegean Arts and Cultural Exchange (Greece), and at three U.S. National Parks (Acadia, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain). He was awarded a three-year residency-fellowship from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, Miami, from 1989-91. From his studios in Maine and Pennsylvania, he completed several large commissioned works for government, corporate, and private collections. His paintings have also been selected to hang in sixteen U.S. embassies on five continents. He has lectured in the U.S. as well as in Greece, Wales and England.
From January 2015 until March 2015, an exhibition of 65 of Paquette’s paintings created in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, travels to museums from California to Indiana and New York.
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