manufacturing an idea to fit the parts. One of the challenges of searching for just that right scrap is that it not only has to have the right form and shape, but also has to balance structurally with the rest of the piece. This in and of itself is no mean feat since many of his pieces are large, well over eight feet in height and/or length. Thompson’s persistence in the quest can and has led to a sculpture standing shrouded in plastic for months at a time until one of his forays to the junkyard yields pay dirt. When he finds that elusive perfect scrap, Thompson brings it back to the large area at the back of his family’s property where he has a carefully ordered workspace. The space, really an out-door studio, occupies a large area filled with the materials of his craft. Radiating out from the center, like a painter’s palette with the colors laid out around the edges, are assorted collections of metal that he has grouped and ordered according to size and shape so that he can find what he needs quickly. His welding area in the center, the earth bare to prevent flying sparks from igniting. He works with a surprisingly small torch considering the size of his final sculptures. Thompson learned from his father to work with the metal as a craftsman, by smell and sound as well as sight. The hiss of the bubbling metal speaks to him, telling him just when it’s hot enough for the join to stick. Sometimes his subjects are ones that he becomes familiar with through hours of research at the library. The public library in downtown Columbia is Thompson’s research center where he reads voraciously about a broad range of topics from Impressionist art to texts describing the anatomy of the dinosaurs that fascinate him. Other times his subjects are drawn
from the surrounding natural world, like the deer that stays on display in the front yard. Thompson started out creating single figures but says he is really drawn to making groups, like the school of fish stretched out in a line in front of us in the yard. Several of the arrangements form self-contained tableaux, groupings of objects and creatures in an accompanying environment. A group of red metal cannas peek up about the shrubs in the edge of the front yard. From twenty feet away the “flowers” do a pretty good job of fooling the human eye, but up close they confuse the bumblebees as well. “I feel like I’ve succeeded when the bees try to drink nectar from the flowers. They just buzz around and get frustrated,” he says with evident satisfaction. At times Thompson embellishes his work with a painted surface created with simples spray enamel. How he approaches that finish depends entirely on the piece. The red cannas with their sinuous foliage are fairly flatly painted. The fish, on the other hand, have more complex patterned surfaces created by spraying paint through a variety of materials, one layer on top of another to create a dense texture. The surfaces of some sculptures retain the original finish of their component parts. Others are left to patina naturally in the outdoors, especially if they are too large and heavy to be taken apart and moved. Thompson visibly winces at the thought of how difficult it was to take apart and move the Tyrannosaurus Rex. He says that’s one sculpture that is going to stay right where it is. Some of the artist’s objects are put to more prosaic uses. A small garden plot sits to the side of the
Published on Sep 10, 2011
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