As the painter explained, “First, there are the drawings: A new body of work, in a medium usually reserved for studies, that I intended from the beginning as stand alone works. During the years that they were in my studio, they were developed without comment or pressure, put away for periods of time and brought out again for development. Then, there is the hint of a new direction in landscape painting, very separate from the drawings, on a very intimate scale. Third is a continuation of still life, responding in the squares and rectangles to a constructivist streak I’ve always been drawn to, again kept in the studio and allowed to settle in awhile.”
Berkeley-based Tompkins turned to drawings in 2011 as a respite from making very complicated, time-intensive paintings. Normally, these interruptions would have him exploring oils on paper as studies for possible paintings. This time, he started with simple forms such as a diagonal, a horizontal, or two curves—and no preconceived notion of the result. As random marks were made with varying grades of pencil, from vertical lines to cross-hatches, landscapes began to suggest themselves. The basic forms echoed shapes that he continually observed and recorded in small sketchbooks while on hikes in West Marin. The resultant ten drawings, many large-scale, are ultimately invented places, with an emphasis on light effects, comprised of layers of uncountable marks, some erasures, then more marks.
Continuing the exploration of still life imagery presented as if atop a shelf, this current group of paintings sees an increase in the complexity not only in objects rendered and but also in their arrangement in the composition. The oil on wood panel paintings utilize trompe l’oeil effects while maintaining the feel of a painting. In these works presenting clusters of objects—such as a stack of books, lichen-covered pieces of wood, an empty bottle of vinegar or a coil of yellow rope—resting upon a shelf, the artist seeks to explore formal arrangements of light, shape, color, and pattern, with an emphasis on repeated vertical and horizontal elements.
The artist received his MFA from University of California at Davis in 1983, after earning his BFA there in 1981. Tompkins was a past recipient of NEA fellowship. He further received the prestigious Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters. An exhibition catalogue of the Landscape Drawings is available.