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Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body

Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body

Chrysler Museum of Art

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The exhibition catalog Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body presents the artist’s newest body of work while also examining the conceptual, visual, and processual links she makes between various media. The catalog contextualizes these artworks in light of Thomas’s personal artistic path, and also in terms of her larger creative influences and art historical connections. Significantly, this is the first time the artist’s glass artworks will be brought into dialog with her works on paper and sculptural media.

The exhibition debuted at the Chrysler Museum (February 24, 2023 to August 20, 2023) and will then travel onwards to two additional venues, including the Wichita Museum of Art (October 7, 2023 to January 14, 2024) and the University of Pennsylvania’s Arthur Ross Gallery (February 17, 2024 to May 21, 2024).

The Chrysler’s exhibition brings together blown and sand-carved glass vessels with large-format portraits made from cut-and-layered paper as well as a room-sized installation created from cut Tyvek (a nonwoven, polyethylene fabric). For all of these artworks, Thomas used a utility knife to cut into the materials, allowing pictures to emerge from light that passes through the negative spaces. Thomas’s two-dimensional paper artworks give the illusion of illumination while her three-dimensional works literally glow with light. Thomas uses light-filled artworks to encourage viewers to reflect on the visual experience of the body within a physical and metaphorical world of light and shadow, and to consider how we communicate ourselves to others and how we perceive those among us. Thomas’s imagery centers on human figures, based on the artist’s family, friends, and neighbors, as well as celebrated African American writers like Charles Johnson and August Wilson.

The catalog begins with a short reflection written by Barbara Earl Thomas. Her words touch on her process, influences, and ideas while also reading as deeper metaphors: “I use my knife like the oar that slices the water’s surface in a swirling motion to reveal, through some magic, the biofluorescence—I cut to reveal, to make seen.” The following three essays probe Thomas’s art and artistic process. Exhibition curator Carolyn Needell writes deeply about the concept and quality of light within the artworks: “Through her cuts and scraps of color, through her delivery of light and shadow, Thomas reveals and revels in our illumination.” In the next essay, Kemi Adeyemi ruminates on the intricacies of portraiture: “Thomas’s working method reorganizes the expected relations among sitter, artist, and viewer to create the sensation of being-with.” In the final essay, Emily Zimmerman explores the ways in which Thomas acts as a visual storyteller, and how her imagery connects people to their creative callings or “how they extend themselves out into the world through their body.”

Product Details

  • Product Type: Exhibition Catalog, Paperback
  • 64 pages, with 46 illustrations
  • Published in 2023
  • Shipping Dimensions: 10.0 × 8.5 × 0.375 inches  (25.4 × 21.6 × 1.0 cm)
  • Shipping Weight: 0.5 lb (8.0 oz; 227 g)
  • SKU010009094 | 9798987929315

About Barbara Earl Thomas, The Illuminated Body

Carolyn Swan Needell is the Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. Fascinated by the unique qualities and possibilities of glass as an artistic material, her work explores the visual and conceptual links between glass and other media.

Kemi Adeyemi is Associate Professor of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her work often uses performance as a site and methodology for exploring the contours of contemporary Black queer life.

Emily Zimmerman is the assistant director of the Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, she was the director and curator of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery at the University of Washington.

About the Artist, Barbara Earl Thomas

Barbara Earl Thomas is a Seattle-based artist, writer, and thinker. Her body of work includes paintings, prints, paper collages, glass vessels, metal sculpture, and Tyvek installations. She draws from history, folklore, mythology, biblical stories, and her family’s Southern roots, creating figural and narrative imagery charged with emotional and philosophical force to reflect the social fabric of our times.

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