“Eliza Thomas: Light on Water”
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Oct. 27
Where: Wally Workman Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth St.
Info: 472-7428, www.wallyworkmangallery.com
After spending a year gazing at gorges, creeks and oceans across America, Eliza Thomas is finally empty again.
Like a lot of Texans, Thomas has spent a lot of time worrying about water.
Walking through her new show at Wally Workman Gallery, she drifts aloud through some of the thoughts that sparked a year’s worth of art: impervious cover, development, pollution, the state of Deep Eddy and Barton Springs, and sprinkler systems “irrigated by private well.”
Taken altogether, these issues coalesced in a blase attitude that Thomas sums up more simply: “(expletive) Wal-Mart watering the lawn at three in the afternoon, in August.”
A year ago Thomas was bored with her style and out of ideas. “I had finished a body of work and I was empty, like I am now.”
She explains that this maxim comes from an Asian school of art that says you leave your expression on the page. It sounds therapeutic.
Thomas began setting up a portable studio near bodies of water. She traveled to mid-coast Maine, Colorado and Shoal Creek, carrying her camping chair, backpack, fresh paper and — what else — watercolors. “Anything I could just carry in my hands,” she says.
She stands next to work, a flurry of black marks on paper, between two larger masses. It came from Colorado, where she sat “studying black water between rocks.”
It’s not trying to replace a picture of the gorge, but, as Thomas says often, it’s trying to capture a moment in time.
“To me they’re little dances,” she says before bursting that thought bubble with a fit of laughter.
But there is some truth to that idea: Thomas also dances with aerial dance troupe Blue Lapis Light. This work is “like choreography of lines,” she decides.
Painting water is challenging, and so is doing something new with it. “It’s trying to draw something that’s absolutely changing every single second.”
The works on paper began and finished in little bursts. Thomas would lay out several sheets at once. “It was a lot of waiting, observing, for specific moments in time,” she says.
When those moments came, she would paint different pieces at different stages until a certain impression had run its course. Many of these marks try to translate the water’s sounds — no easy feat. In that sense, she says, smiling, the works are almost mixed media.
A series in green watercolor came from sitting in a grove of trees on Shoal Creek, Thomas says. These have beautiful, smooth brushwork layered below jagged pencil marks.
“They’re meditations,” she says.
Some were done in absolute silence and, in the case of one larger oil painting, gazing at moonlight on the Atlantic Ocean. It looms large, with silvery light crowning on the peak of calm waves.
There’s also an older work, a long scroll of paper with words from a poem in translucent cursive.
“I’m here to promote contemplation,” Thomas says at one point.
In our world, she says, “we lack this sort of stillness.”
And if this stillness is not a direct solution to Texas’ water woes, at least it’s a place to start.
As Thomas discovered after spending hours observing humble Shoal Creek near 24th Street, if you stare long enough, some good will come of it.