Thomas Vinton
June15, 1999

Thomas Vinton

Bridgewater/Lustberg & Blumenfeld Gallery through June 26

By Herbert Reichert

When an artist ignores the fashions of the times, when he decides to work outside the critical mainstream, he stands a good chance of becoming marginalized and he just may be opening doors for himself. His creative life may become one of greater choices and possibilities. He can now give himself permission to freefall – past any threshold. He can choose to walk about in a trance and shine his light in even the darkest grottos. Most importantly, he can step into the realm of personal truth, obscure notion and romantic sentiment. He can explore any landscape he can find. He may even choose to wax poetic.

Thomas Vinton gives us poetic landscapes. His paintings exist in spite of the international mainstream. He paints quietly and thinly with oil color and turps on small plywood boards. He paints various diagrammatic buildings sitting on hills or flat, child-like horizons. He draws only a few shapes in each painting, but he fills these painted scenes with colors and forms that suggest the loftiest of thoughts and the noblest of sentiments. He starts, like a school boy in his room, drawing with pencil and ruler, making just a few lines. Typically, his little house-like shapes have sharp, centrally-located, pointed roofs. Then, using a small brush he surrounds the architectural schematic with one or more simple landscape elements. A hill, a road, a tree, all painted in muted but luminous washes. There is a sort of wiped-over thinness to the paint that reveals tears in the veneer and “fills” in the plywood dropouts.

Vinton’s traditional, almost classic sense of form comes into immediate contact with (what I would call) universal spiritual, philosophical and moral elements. But to enjoy and understand these 25 paintings you must realize that his conception of form is bound up with an interior view, a dream-like vision and a desire to showcase the collision of the classical, the romantic and the surrealistic. Vinton’s paintings are simple to the point of abstraction and in this exhibition he exhibits them in only two sizes. His methods are almost dreary in their modesty. It is easy to miss the deeper, more evocative elements. Nothing in these paintings could be described as literal or matter of fact, instead, there is a hidden sort of post-Bauhaus notion of God in the subtleties. These paintings glow with an almost naive sincerity – like a modern-day Giotto.

Strangely, the symbolic and metaphoric aspects do not predominate. In each of these little building-in-a-landscape panels, there is some noticeable and I think important illusion, via color and luminosity, to sunlight and atmosphere. There is a suggestion of humidity in the open spaces that compliments the washes of muted color. It is here, in the dichotomy of wood with paint set against light and landscape that Vinton places his poetry. Most of his paintings suggest a search for what I can only describe as the causeless: something incomprehensible, something truly obscure. These are still and quiet paintings. The vision appears frozen. I am reminded again of a deaf, young boy, wandering the country hillsides, alone with no one to play with. Because he hears no wind or cricket or bird sounds, the air seems heavier and the movement of the clouds, more pronounced, more patterned. Humankind seems remote in these paintings. I keep thinking of this innocent young boy because the touch and drawing, the way Vinton makes a line, the way he fills a shape with color is tentative and uncertain, but this is the strength and the beauty of Vinton’s effort. Thomas Vinton, as an artist, seems so fresh and unjaded – each painting is a beginning. I am taken with his purity and charm. The joy of these works is that the artist gives us a close, tangible look at his weaknesses and his restraint. He gives us a tender view at what limits his world, and he does it with what amounts to grateful pride. This is all rare stuff in today’s crass art scene.

Unavoidably, some of these paintings will ring more true than others. They span a range from the almost real and tangible landscape places to the nearly abstract, modernist and architectonic. My personal favorites were the former. Exemplified by; Architectural Fantasy 99.17, 1999 and Architectural Fantasy 99.16, 1999. In both of these, the poetic allusion is tightly stretched, it fills and energizes the whole panel. These, and several other paintings in this exhibition act like low-key energy sources, inviting the viewer’s meditation. These are the type of paintings one can visit to recharge and refresh. They remind the viewer he is not alone and they suggest a place. Not a place to go, not of a specific memory, but rather a place we all share. An interior space. Vinton’s combinations of squares, rectangles and triangles which constitute his “architecture” are really primary elements that describe the larger world. Imagine if I were alone, floating in the featureless abyss, and I were to move my finger in the shape of a rectangle, I would thereby describe the whole. I would set the universe into relation. This is very similar to the way Vinton’s little “architectures” work.

This is a unusual exhibition. In order to appreciate it, it is essential that the viewer comes to terms with his or her beliefs regarding poetics in contemporary art. Are they still possible? Do they continue to be vehicles of meaning? Can a painting still allude to a larger whole or a higher sentiment? Can art still reference a spiritual condition, a thought or a frame of mind? Can an artist still unveil something common to us all – something superior to our everyday realities? Can simple little paintings on low-grade plywood cause us to recognize the common essence of our impressions and the shared part of our imagination? If, somewhere inside you, you still can find a place that needs silent mystery, if you still believe that there may be some hidden aspect to the experience of life – if idealism and optimism are not dead words for you – Thomas Vinton is your kindred spirit.