The source of JB Thompson's imagery is a direct, mystical experience of reality which he does not try to define or control. He does not separate the creation of his art from the living of his life. Both are a continuous process of exploration-- a synthesis of the known and the unknown, of technical skill and creative intuition. "I see and digest things through personal experience, and then I let the experience reveal itself through the abstract forms of my art. If I consciously try to maintain control, it doesn't work. I have to let go of an experience before I can use it."
When an image for a print is completed, however, Thompson's skillful methods of printmaking are the opposite of "letting go." Each print is meticulously executed. Although his wife, Suzanna, and a number of assistants work with him in producing editions, he insists on continuous personal supervision. "Each print is a part of me. I want every one to be right and to feel right before it leaves my studio."
The ability to balance intuition and control is equally evident in Thompson's life. Born in Texas in 1932, he began studying at the University of Oklahoma in 1950, first as an architectural student, but eventually turning to painting and then to sculpture. His careful mastery of each area gave him a control over material and techniques that is still evident in his art. Successful as both a painter and sculptor, Thompson expanded into printmaking in 1970. Experiencing immediate success with his original limited edition prints, he was honored with a Purchase Award at the Seattle Print International. "I've always had a great affinity for metal," says Thompson, "from its molecules to the finished form of sculpture. So I decided that somehow I had to integrate metal, painting, architecture and printmaking. I spent a year and a half developing the systems to make metal work with paper. It wasn't easy, because I wanted the metal to be fully integrated and not something superfluous."
Thompson achieved his goal and released his first editions of sterling silver and copper collage prints in 1972. Over the years his skills and techniques have continued to evolve. His unique prints now combine a variety of techniques and materials, including collagraph, woodcut, lithograph, etching, carborundum surfaces, and metal collages in sterling silver, copper, gold and gold leaf. He uses carborundum extensively in his collagraphs, which are created from a collage of elements such as cardboard, paper, gesso and acrylic glue. His masterful use of the carborundum process is what gives his images their rich texture. Each piece of metal in Thompson's art is prepared by hand. The image is cut, embossed from an original plate, chemically treated and polished by hand in his studio. There are as many as thirteen processes involved in the preparation of the metal alone, which is then adhered to the original print or painting through a process developed by a chemist especially for Thompson.
Thompson's images are as rich and varied as his techniques-- the result of an equally thorough exploration in the realm of consciousness and self-knowledge. The title of his pieces often refer to journeys and voyages, travels that are both physical and spiritual. Some works have a sense of moving around a powerful "center," while in others there is a delicate and mysterious blending and overlapping of colors. Still other images are like Asian Mandalas, metaphysical diagrams of the universe that use circles within squares within circles to represent the different levels of the cosmos. Circles and squares are overlapped and cut apart with flowing forms and textures-- like pieces of a puzzle that, if put together, would form a perfect whole. "I'm very interested in Egyptian and pre-Columbian art, Mayan architecture, hieroglyphics and cave paintings," says Thompson. "Not that these images directly influence my work, it is more the energy behind the images. Energy is constantly changing form. I feel that somehow I have experienced these things before. Not so much in the sense of reincarnation, but in the sense of energy flowing through me now that was also involved in those periods of time. Energy transcends space and time, so that the past, present and future are all one. The idea is timelessness, which is what I strive for in my work. One might say my art is ancient/contemporary/futurism."
"Art is a process through which I grow and develop as a human being, and the product it becomes is a statement of that process at a given time. If someone looks closely at my work, he or she can see the things I'm talking about. When that happens-- when a connection is made between my art and someone who "sees" it-- that's what is really important. We may never physically meet one another, but we have shared energy, we have connected, we have communicated." In Thompson's work, one can experience simultaneously moving outward to the limits of the physical universe and inward to the limits of an individual sense of self. It does not dictate, but merely points the way, suggesting other possibilities and other realities.