Drastic Park

Kim Thoman's drawings revisit the Romantic/Surrealist landscape
By DeWitt Cheng February 27, 2008

Pod 4, Forest 1

Nature is generally given short shrift in contemporary art, with its fascination with media, but some artists still find inspiration in Reality 1.0 (though they do create their own upgrades). Kim Thoman's drawings now on view at Oakopolis derive from studies of seed pods. The spindle-shaped structures with their eyelike and mouthlike apertures feed her imagination and fuel her explorations. Her pod portraits grow into symbolic narratives that can be considered in the romantic tradition of Samuel Palmer, Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, and others, and the Surrealist tradition of Max Ernst and Francis Bacon (who despised such labels, of course). Michael Crichton warned that Nature finds a way; certain species of art just keep coming back.

In Heart Still Life, a sectioned, heart-shaped pod is the mysterious focus: placed in an ambiguous inside/outside setting atop an inclined circular platform, and flanked by animated leaves that are partly sinister characters and partly reflections of our own anxiety, it's an image of foreboding. Pod Still Life 1 is less unsettling: the dramatically lighted and rendered pod is set against an opaque black background, which is then framed by animated fronds and scraps of wood as if in homage; it's a Surrealist portrait, in the collage style of Max Ernst. Pod 4, Forest 1 is a diptych, with the left side black, the right off-white; each contains half of a continuous thicket of branches, darkened at left, illuminated at right. On the left, the pod has grown a dark sheath or hood, and its opening is distended into a huge maw ringed by a spiral of teeth. (It's actually a scanned shot of a necklace tipped into the correct "facial" perspective.) The pod on the right remains held in the branches come daylight, but now half-effaced, with only its pearly Cheshire cat smile remaining. Mother of Pearls 3 is of decidedly less fraught. Its two panels are connected by a roughly drawn red/black branch or road supporting two metal spheres. The left sphere sits amid a galaxy of pearl strands suggestive of wheeling planets in stop-motion photographs; it's resplendent and heavenly. The right sphere rests amid the petals of a red plant that's anthropomorphic, active, and searching. Through March 22 at Oakopolis, (447 25th St., Oakland).