Word Up: artists using language / Abstracted, J. Barry Thomson
Word Up: artists using language
William S. Burroughs, one of the more influential writers of the 20th century’s Beat Generation, once described language as a virus from outer space. Words are potent symbols and signifiers that – in varying degrees – clarify and illuminate as well as confuse and conceal our understanding of the world.
The work in this exhibition displays many varied approaches to using the written word as a vital component within the context of a visual work of art. Some works belong to long established traditions, such as the broadside and the hand-made book. These centuries-old forms of communication, with broadsides often historically considered ephemera, were primarily produced to disseminate information to the public. Presently, both art forms, often produced by small art presses, are highly collected and considered significant works of art. In these collections we see a variety of approaches including collaborations between writers, scholars, and artists as well as works by individual artists, both in the forms of limited editions and unique works.
Thank you to all the artists in this exhibition for sharing their work with special gratitude to Dan Mayer and John Risseeuw of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU for their shared knowledge, guidance, and generous loan of their extensive collections of student work.
Abstracted, J. Barry Thomson
After an introductory course in high school in New England, Barry Thomson knew by the end of his senior year that he would be a photographer. Thereafter self-taught, he began his career by doing street photography and purchased a 4×5 view-camera when he was 21. Traveling through the West, visiting Big Sur and Death Valley, and hiking in the Sierras, it was ultimately the Grand Canyon, and later the Colorado Plateau that really captured his heart and imagination. Even though he loved the immensity of Western spaces, Thomson returned to Vermont in his early 30’s to what is essentially a much more intimate environment. The change in the physical landscape proved pivotal in defining his photographic vision. In photographing “smaller” landscapes, the imagery also started to become more abstract, which subsequently led to an expanded idea of what constitutes a landscape. Thomson continues to work with film in 4”x5” and 2½” formats and hand prints all his work in a darkroom. His work is featured in many public collections and museums.