Thom Sawyer

Time and Physicality

While these paintings and drawings originate from a number of distinctly different locations—the Potomac River Gorge; a small urban garden in Washington, DC; Mount St. Helens and the high desert of southern New Mexico—they share several themes and ideas. The landscape as a marker for time is one common thread. On the Potomac, various times are revealed in the river's movements, from almost imperceptible split second shifts of its rapids, through the seasonal rise and fall of the river within its narrow canyons, to the unimaginably slow wearing away of the rocks that form its chutes and falls. In the garden, a more contemplative time is manifested through the conscious formation of language, using delicate natural materials that quickly disperse, decay, and return to the order of the small but active landscape wedged into a man-made setting. Time in such a location is intimate and immediate. By contrast, Mount St. Helen's deep geological time reaches back millenniums. Its 1980 violent eruption and subsequent on-going regeneration allow us to recognize time in the landscape as explosive and accelerated as well as slow and unwinding. The mountains of southern New Mexico and the surrounding human activity echo both Mount St. Helen's expansive, uncontrolled landscape and the more personal, immediate setting of a backyard garden. Here, the near and far, the large and small, the earth and sky are observed with equal attention.

In each series, time is closely tied to the physical: the plastic shape and force of the river (its shallow surface as well as its powerful submerged current); the fragile tactile qualities of various natural forms (seed pods, grasses, leaves, and flowers); and the raw elements of fire, earth, water, and sky. The physical is present also in the use of simple, insistent marks that map patterns as they delineate illusional space.