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Thibeault’s Paintings Exhibited At Culver City’s Lawson Gallery

Published: August 1, 2013

The School of Art’s Marie Thibeault crowned a busy spring with a solo exhibition in June at Culver City’s George Lawson Gallery featuring paintings made in response to the October 2012 super storm Sandy, including selections from her series titled “Funtown” named for a New Jersey park hit hard by the calamity.

Accompanying the exhibit of five large and eight smaller paintings was a 140-page hardcover book with more than 60 color reproductions, new paintings and commentary by critic Constance Mallinson.

In her introduction to the exhibit’s catalogue, “Marie Thibeault–Skirting the Sublime,” Malinson wrote: “Named for an amusement park decimated by Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012, the Funtown paintings share the complex compositional techniques and dissonant aesthetics of her earlier works with an emphasis on watery immersion. Whirling, crisscrossing, skewed lines representing the partially submerged translucent specters of Ferris wheels and twisted roller coasters alternately interlace and dissolve into a polychrome patchwork of paint daubs and scrapings. Evoking ocean and sky and the tawdry beachfront locale, color ranges from lush foliage greens, blurry storm grays and blues, to eye popping magentas and hot pinks. In Thibeault, the emblems of the American lust for spine-tingling escapist entertainment seem to implode and sink after nature’s furious assault, and ironically, we come face to face with the ultimate scary ride. Few artworks today visualize so tragically the connections between uncontrolled consumerism and global climate change and its concomitant losses.”

Thibeault’s work was included in “Millennial Abstractions” at the Marin Community Center, February-May, and the “Decomposition” exhibition at Fellows of Contemporary Art (FOCA) in Los Angeles, May 11-July 13.

The exhibit represented a continuation of a series of paintings Thibeault has developed for several years that respond to environmental change. “This is more than a record of a cataclysm,” she explained. “It is a matter of trying to encapsulate a sense of rapid change. I wanted to create a sense of both tearing down and building up at the same time. They are about movement and changing structures. They are about the language of painting and how it can express what I want as opposed to film or photography.”

Her first encounter with super storm Sandy didn’t come by TV. “I was flying when it first struck,” she recalled. “I left my mother with batteries in Connecticut, where they’re unflappable.”

Her “Funtown” series is freighted with symbolism, Thibeault pointed out. “An amusement park usually carries the symbolism of carefree reverie,” she said. “Meanwhile, this park was being engulfed by the ocean. It seemed layered with symbolism that the park was being reclaimed by the ocean and the sand. There was a balance between the happy and sad, the manufactured and the organic. Funtown itself was an American icon where generations grew up. What happened to Funtown demonstrates that what we once thought was true about unchangeable icons is no longer the case.”

In a May, Los Angeles Times critic Leah Ollman wrote of the “Funtown” series, “The paintings are images of motion machines and dynamic motion machines in themselves. Roller coasters and ferris wheels appear, usually fragmented, as central icons within agitated fields of vibrant color. These structures compromised by the storm also serve well as metaphors for the spasmodic rhythm of experience (the coaster) and the cyclical nature of time (the wheel). Thibeault’s palette swerves from the pungent to the sweet, from riotous to sober. Each of the five large and eight smaller canvases enacts a dazzling disturbance, the rich commotion of the brushstrokes allowing neither eye nor mind a safe, static place to rest.”

Marie Thibeault's Art
Marie Thibeault’s painting titled “Jet Star”.

Thibeault’s current large oil paintings reveal an in-depth involvement with extreme color vibration and oscillation, bodily memory and experience within the landscape. She has a long-standing interest in extending the tradition of American landscape painting to abstraction. She has been included in several important survey exhibitions on the subject including “Rediscovering the Landscape of the Americas.” She studied with notable Bay Area figurative painters Elmer Bischoff and Joan Brown. She received her BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, her M.A. in painting from San Francisco State University and her MFA in Painting from UC Berkeley.

“Disasters happen all the time” Thibeault said. “There are strings of tornados and ever more intense storms. When my interest was caught first, I looked at every single disaster. But as time passed, I became more discriminating. Now I’m looking for specific imagery. The imagery of Hurricane Sandy didn’t interest me any more than any other disaster until I saw Funtown. There was a principle of attraction at work here. This image matched my work. I was already searching for an abstract image so when I saw Funtown, it fit really well.”

Thibeault sees a continuing environmental commitment to her painting. “In all the time I have painted, and this goes back to the 1970s, I have tried to portray changes in the environment,” she said. “I began by dealing with pollution and clean water, moved on to nuclear testing and now I deal with climate change. My core motivation as a painter is as an environmentalist. I feel lucky to have been so prolific during the last five months while teaching and I am looking forward to developing the next stage of this series. This was just the beginning.”