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
For the past 35 years Steve Thomsen has been active at the heart of the west-coast avant-garde art and sound-art scenes. Thomsen first gained the public’s and critics’ attention within the underground art community of Los Angeles in the late 1970s when he co-founded World Imitation, an art collective which sought to respond in new and expressive ways to the three-way collision of visual and sonic art, physics and contemporary American mass-consumerist culture. In the process Thomsen helped to form Monitor, one of the Los Angeles area’s most uncompromisingly experimental and influential art/music bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Monitor left behind a collection of unique recordings that might be called Punk Exotica or Melodramatic Parlor Music.Over the course of the next decade Thomsen produced an imposing body of work that combined the medium of chap-book art with avant sound-collage, eventually co-founding a new collaborative initiative which became known as Solid Eye. During the same period he became increasingly involved in the L.A. gallery world, creating a voluminous series of mixed-media and collage works before finally re-locating to Kanarraville, Utah.Meanwhile, and virtually unbeknownst to him, Thomsen’s earlier independent musical catalog was slowly gaining importance in the Far East, where a burgeoning inter-media / noise-art movement had been gaining momentum. Following a tour of performances in Japan’s most respected avant-garde venues a few years ago, Thomsen was singled out by the Japanese community for special distinction: Skeleton Works, a 5-CD retrospective of his visual and sound art, is slated for release by the Neurec label in 2015.Energized by the unexpected attention he has received in recent years, this veteran of the Santa Monica and L.A. art / art-music communities responded with his most personal visual-art project to date. This was the series of mixed-media collage images from which a small number have been selected for inclusion on this website. Combining acrylics, found images, machine-generated texture-enhancement techniques and xerography, these abstract landscapes re-situate Thomsen’s earlier, often intimidatingly oblique and expressively ambiguous art within an extraordinary yet curiously accessible five-way nexus of eclectic references: 1.) the visual anti-traditions of 20th-century geometric and constructivist abstraction; 2.) the expressionist legacy of Bauhaus design; 3.) the evocative visual-textural language of Paul Klee; 4.) American pulp and sci-fi illustrational styles of the 1950s and ’60s; and 5.) the formidable, aeons-old landscape terrain of Utah. A longtime student of the inner mysteries of the electromagnetic spectrum and its most potent component — visible light, Thomsen is reflecting (both figuratively and literally) the inherent and inexplicable power of spectral harmonics to strike and move the viewer. In these latest collages Thomsen’s color, tied to the structural rigor of collage — a medium bound by, and thus uniquely suggestive of, the farthest edges of shapes — becomes the very embodiment of light. Streaking across the strictly regulated boundaries of rock, planet, star and sky, Thomsen’s chromic world glows with the cosmic power of quantum energy, leaving in its wake a quietly spectacular and mesmerizing echo of complementary harmonies.Andrew Marvick, Professor of Art History, Southern Utah UniversityMay 2015
GALLERY OF STEVE THOMSEN COLLAGES (Click on any image to enlarge.)