Painting with fire at Trifecta gallery

Artist Thomas Willis turns everyday objects into its art

Complete Circulation”
Illustration: Thomas Willis

Thomas Willis’ Collected and Represented is an exceptionally quiet experience. The 12 paintings blend seamlessly into Trifecta Gallery’s walls, disrupted only by the hushed sepia-toned objects floating on obsessively finished, white canvas surfaces. The mandala-like arrangement of objects—mostly quotidian office supplies like pencils, paper clips and keys—is inherently meditative and coolly seductive. And the level of detail is breathtaking, especially given that all of the paintings are made with fire.

But more on the fireworks later.

Now that I have your attention, it’s an excellent time to point out the general tone of keen observation. In Willis’ capable hands, negligible yet indispensable things are suddenly deserving of extreme consideration. Flattered by the artist’s rapt attention, the depicted objects are elevated in status, each granted significance by sheer virtue of its inclusion. A flower arrangement, a tape measure, a hook: what makes them so special?

The Details

Thomas Willis’ Collected and Represented
three and a half stars
Through November 27; Wednesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m.; Saturday, noon-2 p.m.; free
Trifecta Gallery, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., 366-7001
"Prime Price Point"

"Prime Price Point"

Every article depicted in Willis’ paintings was found inside Trifecta, resulting in a kind of interior portrait of the gallery—or any gallery for that matter. In a humorous perversion of consumerism in general and the art market specifically, Willis has gracefully transformed the everyday, ubiquitous paraphernalia of the gallery into privileged objects, the “art.”

For several years, Las Vegas expat and Boston resident Willis has experimented with unexpected organic and transient materials, using his body or objects in his immediate environment as subject matter. Willis is a supremely gifted painter, with the mindbending ability to transform grape jelly, coffee grounds and plain old dirt into William Blake-like ethereal pastorals. Questions of materiality and eco-consciousness coincide with a serious interrogation of the history of painting and the illusion of value.

These investigations seem to crest with the use of fire. Created through an elaborate process involving masking and open flame, these delicate paintings are quite literally up in smoke, mere whispers of assessable worth. In a flash, the lovely residue of flame curls along the contour of a small glass jar, defining volume and depth.

The arrangement of objects is mesmerizing, infinite circles that hold the eye hostage. Each circle is mathematically precise in some obscure formula, perfectly perfect with the exception of a subtle aberration, as when a protractor goes slightly off course, in a beautifully human way. I counted again and again, as if chanting, obsessively searching for the pattern and blip.

The nuances of the exhibition vanish for a second next to the undeniable wow-factor of fabrication (hello, FIRE?!). But the fire in Collected and Represented is alchemical, magically reinforcing a mistrust of the art market while desperately inspiring the need to buy a painting. Packing quite the roar into such a quiet little show, Willis is an artist to watch.


Danielle Kelly

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