Shells, swirls and countless brush strokes pulse in vivid color on the canvas, as Motte Thomas scans his work, hanging on the walls of Glynn Visual Art on St. Simons Island.
There, the Brunswick artist’s latest exhibit, Wax Poetic, has been greeting visitors since the beginning of September, offering them the chance to take in his meticulously created encaustic works. The method uses paint and pigmentation mixed with layers of bees’ wax.
It is an old technique, one often used in ancient times, but it has seen a re-birth in recent years. Thomas has worked in the medium for decades.
“What I do is a little different than more contemporary encaustic rage. I’ve been working with it for 35 years. I work differently because at the time I started there was really no formula. I invented a formula that worked for me,” he said.
“I’m an oil painter and the bees wax gave me a great latitude of variety in being able to push and pull the paint. It also allowed it to have a transluent effect which is important in the way I layer the brush strokes.”
Thomas was classically trained as an artist, after first picking up a brush at the age of 12. The North Carolina native went on to attended the Atlanta College of Art as well as the University of Houston, launching a career as a professional artist and teacher. He also has worked as a master print maker and photographer.
“It’s really something I’ve pursued all my life. I stopped for about 10 years to raise my kids but I started back up about 10 years ago,” he said.
Since then, he has worked consistently to bring his vision to life, incorporating shapes from the natural world as well as vivid color to his works.
“My background is from the 50s, 60s and 70s ... the art influence. I’m academically trained. I can do realism, but this is my imgaination. That’s what I love about art. It involves that beautiful process of imagination,” he said. “These are right out of my head and onto the canvas. Then I go about sculpting them into the full painting. I work on four at a time. They have to dry and rest.”
As with the layers of paint, each work has layers of meaning. Thomas says each one offers a multitude of interpretations.
“I really feel like I’m trying to create a beauty, almost like music. These are inspired by every day beauty the things that you see ... or not necessarily see in every day life. The shells on the beach, for instance,” he said.
“This one is called ‘Twinkle,’ and it’s about the beginning of life, which to me is such an amazing moment ... to think of the moment life is sparked into creation. It’s about those little things that we ponder over and take for granted sometimes.”
The titles, often one word, is designed to give viewers an entry point into his work. Thomas, however, doesn’t want to lead art enthusiasts toward his own interpretation. He hopes they find their own way to see each piece regardless of whether it links up with his own vision.
“A lot of the work is very simple and elemental ... and universal. I want them to be able to come in and see what they see,” he said.
To create the pieces like the ones featured in the show, it takes months of steady work. The paintings featured in the show were crafted in Thomas’ private home studio as well as the Brunswick Stewdio downtown. While he has made a home in the area over the past five years, Thomas notes that many of his acquaintances do not know he’s an artist.
“I really don’t talk about it a lot so a lot of people are surprised to find out I’m a painter,” he said with a laugh.
But Thomas hopes to share more of that with his friends and neighbors.
Thomas will be holding an artist talk to better explain his method to the community. It will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at Glynn Visual Art on St. Simons Island. There, he will explain his vision and artistic method. The exhibit will remain in place through Oct. 13.
Thomas also shares his work in real time. He can often be found painting at the Brunswick Stewdio on Newcastle St., where passersby can watch him work. He notes he is there from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.
Overall, Thomas hopes to inspire others to pursue art, whether as an observer or picking up a brush themselves.
“If they’ve even thought about starting, that’s enough. It’s almost like standing on the edge of a cliff and looking at the water below ... you think, ‘oh it would be fun to jump in,’” he said. “You just have to do it.”
Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Lindsey Adkison at ladkison@ thebrunswicknews.com or at 265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.