Balance and beam

Rose Thomas

The green pepper- and bean-like masses in “Turn” make our writer hungry.

The green pepper- and bean-like masses in “Turn” make our writer hungry.

Photo By David Robert

Falling or floating, intersecting or breaking apart, toppling or balancing. Rose Thomas’ paintings in Bearing seem to capture the chaotic yet organized life of cells as they might be seen under a microscope, or of pebbles in a riverbed.

“Art is how I say things I can’t articulate,” she says. In Bearing, Thomas deals with the struggle to maintain balance while keeping forward momentum. The work is a completely intuitive process.

“It’s about paths taken and the sometimes monumental task of dealing with what one decides and encounters along these paths. Balancing day-to-day routine with the unexpected, and balancing desire with responsibility, is a constant struggle.”

There is no right-side-up in Thomas’ pieces. She lays the work on the floor and walks around while painting to see it from all angles. She enjoys scale and intriguing design and includes minute details.

The overriding feature is the repetition of too-large objects sitting precariously atop small ones. Are they dropping from the sky or drifting up from the ground? Are they balancing or collapsing? It’s impossible to know.

“The title Bearing has an intentional double meaning,” Thomas explains. “It’s about direction or movement, and maintaining a course. But it’s also about bearing weight. I like to give viewers a direction, but not say too much, which diminishes their experience.”

The viewer must decide: Has “bearing” been achieved?

Years of training with stained-glass artist Rachel Schutt-Mesrahi affects Thomas’ work. Her paintings appear to glow from backlight.

“Event: Locus” does this especially well. Round gray and brown objects resemble pebbles in a multi-colored stream of green, gray, red and yellow. “Insinuation” could be microscopic organisms, cells in the body or even fruit. Vibrant red, orange and yellow are warm and almost translucent. It’s like a scientific process at work, frozen in time to be examined.

Not knowing what the work is “supposed to be” isn’t frustrating; it’s interesting.

“My immediate goal,” Thomas says, “is to have a visual dialogue with the viewer, to get my point of view across in art. My hope is that the viewer will stand in front of it and add something to the conversation.”

Thomas’ background is full of rules. Her degree in math and computer science landed her an 11-year career as an engineer with Hughes Aircraft. Even after the radical career shift of becoming an artist, nature and science play a tremendous role in her work. Her intent, however, diametrically opposes that of an engineer. Her art is not result-based. It’s about the journey and perhaps never has a destination. Now a part-time elementary school art teacher, Thomas encourages her students to approach it the same way.

In Bearing, acrylics are used on paper to demonstrate this idea. The strokes are visible through heavy paint that reflects light off its thick surface, while also absorbing it. Thinner glazes made with water create texture and depth, providing that stained-glass appearance.

In “Circumstellar,” Thomas’ hurried, over-sized strokes make tricks of light more obvious. Small green and purple objects must once again support larger, neon-orange and mottled green kidney-shaped masses. The strokes contribute to the feeling of precariousness.

In “Turn,” the images could be peppers, beans and peas on a tile counter (especially when viewed on an empty stomach). The raised drips upon the surface create depth and a feeling of wetness that contribute to the energy of the work.

Joyful, bouncing, bubble-like red objects seem to float upward through a sea of green in “Restive.” They could be blood cells. Amoeba. Christmas ornaments.

There is no right or wrong answer. Thomas long ago gave up on viewers seeing what she sees.

“I’ve started appreciating when people don’t see what I do,” Thomas says. “It’s just about energy. There’s a feeling of tension, but the overriding idea is that there is balance."