In 1977 I pasted together my first free-associative paper collages from images and words found in old magazines and antiquated textbooks. The collages were published in limited-edition chapbooks produced and sold by a southern California-based artist collective called World Imitation Productions (WImP), of which I was a founding member. Devoted to the appropriation and subversion of cultural imperatives and incongruities, WImP’s publishing activities soon expanded to include art exhibitions, installations, performance and creation of graphics for mainstream periodicals.
As our popular appeal grew so did misunderstandings and resentments within the group; the work became uninspired, then burdensome, and the unhappy collective disbanded in 1982. In subsequent years I perpetuated the unique WImP perspective in my chapbooks, cement and steel sculptures, and snowdome dioramas, which were exhibited in numerous art galleries around the country. During this time a friend introduced me to the desert landscape of the American southwest where I discovered a hiker’s paradise of surreal erosional landforms: monumental towers and mesas, soaring arches, simulacred hoodoos, labyrinthine canyons and multi-hued sandstone escarpments everywhere upthrust at carnival-funhouse angles. I was captivated – and began to travel regularly to the region. My accumulated walking distance in more than twenty-five years of wilderness exploration eventually exceeded the circumference of the earth.
An etheric counterpart to the region’s otherworldly topography revealed its presence on many occasions when I witnessed strange apparitions – mirages of aerial islands and phantom lakes, rainbow wheels, multiple suns, spider and bead lightning, the zodiacal light, moondogs, Brocken specters, triboluminescent rockfalls, and floating orbs of light wandering like lost spirits in haunted arroyos. Most impressive of all were ice-crystal halos encompassing the entire sky in prismatic Euclidian diagrams. The beauty and mystery of the geologic and atmospheric phenomena I encountered was inspiring, and in the 1990s I moved to southern Utah to live among these compelling wonders. In consequence, my suburban-surrealist iconographic art aesthetic evolved in conception and execution.
My recent photocopy collages superimpose simple geometric shapes, diagrammatic lines, variegated textures and vibrant colors to portray in abstraction, the incomprehensible realms of space and time, and the transformative benevolence of nature.
Steve Thomsen 2015