How a New England Artist Combines Impressionism with an Age-Old Japanese Tradition

In his printed plant studies, New England artist John Thompson brings an almost Impressionist touch to the modern age. With their easy, relaxed lines and wide range of colors, Thompson’s finished prints certainly call to mind Claude Monet’s various studies of his gardens at Giverny in different light and weather conditions—especially the later paintings, created when Monet’s eyesight had begun to fail and his brushstrokes veered towards abstraction. But in some of Thompson’s pieces, like the “Hatton Etching”series, there is a hint of an older tradition that deeply inspired Monet and other artists of his generation: Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock printing. The influence of this tradition can be seen in the series’ elegant vertical orientation and striking contrast between color and white space.

To make his prints, Thompson begins by studying nature directly, in the en plein air style favored by the Impressionists. Once he returns to his studio, he translates his studies into a variety of loosely rendered patterns and motifs. On the page he experiments freely with various techniques—including silkscreen, woodblocks, etching, and freehand painting—often combining various techniques in a single work. As the image builds, he moves the paper as he goes, and adds new elements organically to create monoprints. “In making work I begin with the simple act of observing, often with a sketch or small painting,” Thompson has said. “In taking those fleeting images back to my studio, as recall fades, imagination takes over and the images begin to change.”

—Heather Corcoran

John Thomas: Symphony of Nature” is on view at Childs Gallery, Boston, June 23rd–Aug. 23rd, 2014.  

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