News : 2018

"Laying It Bare: The Paintings of Frances Thomas"
Pete Smith


Laying it Bare

The Paintings of Frances Thomas

September 20 - October 21, 2018 


Curated by: Carol-Ann Ryan

Georgian College, School of Design and Visual Arts Campus Gallery,

One Georgian Drive, Barrie, ON L4M 3X9

Opening Reception: Thursday, September 20,

7:00 – 9:00 pm



Frances Thomas was born in Parry Sound, Ontario and is a Barrie-basedartist. She holds both a BFA and MFA from York University and is the recipient of the Samuel Sarick Purchase Award for excellence in thesis work. Thomas

has participated in artist residencies in Canada and the US and in 2016 completed a three-month self-directed residency in Berlin, Germany. Her paintings were featured in a solo exhibition, “but wait”, with an accompanying catalogue, at the MacLaren Art Centre in 2009/10. She is represented by Peter Robertson Gallery in Edmonton, Alberta. She has exhibited in Edmonton, Barrie, Toronto and New York and her work is in the permanent collections of the MacLaren Art Centre, BMO and York University.


Carol-Ann Ryan is a visual arts professional who received an honours B.A. in Art & Art History from the University of Toronto and M.A. in Art History from Western University. She has held positions at public galleries including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the MacLaren Art Centre. She has been a sessional instructor in art history at the University of Toronto, Ontario College of Art, Emily Carr University and Georgian College. Currently, Carol-Ann is an Art Advisor & Project Manager with K+D in Toronto and serves as the Vice-Chair of the Public Art Committee for the City of Barrie.


Pete Smith is an artist and writer who lives in Bowmanville, Ontario. Smith has exhibited his work extensively since completing his BFA from York University in 1998 and his MFA from the University of Guelph in 2007. His writings on art have frequently appeared in Canadian Art and Border Crossings magazines. Smith has held teaching positions at Western University, the University of Guelph, and the University of Toronto. He is a lecturer in the Department of Drawing and Painting at OCAD University.



I am sitting out here in the ether… creating painted spaces of incident,

human fragility, pain and joy, all the things it means to be human.

– Frances Thomas



This exhibition comprises recent paintings by Frances Thomas, all produced in her downtown Barrie studio. While some of her imagery is derived from her upbringing on Georgian Bay and her residence in Simcoe County, her perspective and training are international. Her bright canvases and energetic brush strokes draw the viewer in, while the paint itself pushes towards the edge, often bursting off the surface. These qualities in her paintings are like the artist herself, who is known for her fluency in the language of art, gregarious personality, and unparalleled hugs.


Over the past several months Thomas has produced new work continuing her exploration of painting’s potential to express ideas and emotions through the loaded vernacular of abstraction. Her ongoing research has led to this moment where use of shape and colour is confident and deliberate yet varied. Whether she lets line and drawing sparingly do the work or whether she uses big brushes and bold strokes to make her marks, Thomas’s sensibility is there. As someone who has been privileged to watch this body of work develop, I admit this sensibility is difficult to define, but fluidity plays a role. Thomas moves with her work as it dictates she must. This allows for traces of landscape referencing her past to emerge alongside purely abstract passages that result from wading into the unknown. This ability to remain fluid (in method and with paint as medium) gives the paintings a sense of speed in application that although contained in each composition, easily flows to the next. “They are nothing. They are something. Ineffable in their efficacy, they are all that you perceive,” writes guest essayist Pete Smith, perfectly capturing the generosity of imagery that Thomas has created for us. The work of Frances Thomas is not quiet and still - rather it is brash and dynamic - like the woman who produced it. In the studio, she moves with her medium, laying it bare with each painterly gesture.

– Carol-Ann Ryan, Curator



Conjuring Light and the Generosity of Frances

Thomas’ Vague Terrains

Pete Smith


“ Now that the old sorcerer has left me on my own at last,

I can make his forces labor just exactly as I ask.

I’ve learned in this tower, all his words and spells,

With these mental powers, his art is mine as well.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice1


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, in it’s initial incantation, is a 1797 poem written by Goethe wherein a young magicians assistant, tired of the labour involved in his assigned tasks, uses supernatural forces to aid their completion. Things go terribly awry for the young student, and the poem is a cautionary parable about the dangers of summoning forces beyond your control. It’s a famous story (so much so that it has spawned several political clichés in Germany2), and 100 years after Goethe penned those 14 stanzas, the French composer Paul Dukas wrote a “symphonic poem” in response. As a nonmusician, this is an interesting problem that I have some difficulty reconciling. How can music, the most inherently abstract form of art, represent a narrative poem? How can a series of notes and chords struck in the key of F minor, communicate something so specific and concrete as the written word?


And yet, it does.


Like most non-Germans my introduction to Goethe and Dukas’ work came through the 1940 Walt Disney sequence in “Fantasia” wherein this synesthesian project is further extended into an animated visual narrative and the protagonist is portrayed as Mickey Mouse. Although Goethe’s story is faithfully (if comically) conveyed in this adaptation, the original poem itself is quite sparse – and the Disney crew stretch the limits of their creative extrapolation as each of Dukas’ crescendos convene delightful, evocative imagery. Enchanted broom sticks waltz around the sorcerer’s lair, and Mickey slips into a dreamlike reverie – conjuring bursts of colour and stars and light from the tips of his fingers and the ends of his broom sticks.


Like brushes wielding light.


I was reminded of the sorcerer’s lair when I visited the studio of Frances Thomas in an old, converted Barrie coach house this summer. Piles of tubes and buckets of acrylic paint cover the surfaces of her tables. Big cans of latex. All of the expected range of cadmiums and cobalts augmented by an abundance of the idiosyncratic and domestic - the lyrical descriptions of commercial house paint. Lover’s Kiss. Italian Leather. Midnight Blue. Historical art pigments and contemporary social colours coalescing on Thomas’s table tops before finding their way onto or perhaps summoned upon, the surface of her paintings. There are stacks and jars filled with brushes in all different shapes and sizes. Rounds, flats, filberts and house brushes both organized and asunder.


Like broomsticks.


DeKooning often painted with a mop or a broom. The relative scale of a large mark on a small painting cannot be repeated with the same tool on a larger canvas because a thought as a mark as a form is not the same when it has been rendered and reworked as when it has been conjured in a spontaneous singular gesture; and the paintings of Frances Thomas might be faster than DeKooning’s. Abstract artists who work with acrylic, as Thomas does, have a need for speed and a need for the colour of their gestured forms to maintain their full-dial chromatic opulence, not muddied and muted as they do with wet-on-wet oil paint. The choreography of Thomas’ paintings is both fast and slow. Fast and slow. Fast and slow. Take something. Do something to it. Do something to it again. In the bursts of doing there is no time for thinking. Making is thinking here. The surface of her paintings perfectly record the movements of her body and the thought clusters which beckoned them.


Summoned forth.


But. (And there is always a “but” in good painting.) There is the slowness of looking at work here as well - hour upon hour upon hour of watching, feeling, trusting, and hoping followed by second-guessing, loathing and the anxiety of starting again. Painting over top of on top of over top until something vitally emerges. Some kind of truth or at least some glimpse of truth appears.


Upon these rectangular cauldrons.


In “Figure/Ground”, painter and writer Mira Schor talks about the Terrains Vagues in historical French landscape painting – a space that exists between distances where an image is implied rather than depicted3. In these interstitial spaces, the viewer is left free to imagine what objects or dramas lurk beyond the threshold of their vision. In thinking about the necessity of painting, this mechanism is one of its essential manoeuvres – setting painting (and drawing) apart from other image-based disciplines. Although there is certainly room for interpretive, indiscernible imagery within photography, for example, the process of the viewer’s interpretation is always arbitrated by the fact of the object. Although you cannot always tell what something is in a photograph, you always know that it actually is a specific something. There is always a right answer to your guessing. This is not the case in painting, and it is certainly not the case in the paintings of Frances Thomas. There is a tremendous generosity in the way she conjures imagery for the viewer. They are nothing. They are something. Ineffable in their efficacy, they are all that you perceive.




Back in Frances’ coach house studio, we have a lively chat, a light lunch, and a glass of wine. As I put on my shoes and prepare to depart, I catch a flutter of movement from the corner of my eye. Was it a bird, a plane or a paintbrush hovering upwards? The generosity of Frances Thomas’ painterly conjuring allows for all possible outcomes.



1 “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1797.

Translated by Katrin Gygax, 2013.

2 Or, you know, according to Wikipedia. 

3 from the book “Wet: On Painting, Feminism and Art Culture” by Mira Schor.

Duke University Press, 1997. Page 155.



Frances Thomas gratefully acknowledges funding support from the Ontario Arts Council.