New Exhibit

Austin Thomas brings her artwork to Brooks; opening reception on Tuesday night.

The school’s next visiting artist plans to treat the Brooks students she’ll work with like professional artists.

After all, everyone can find themselves in an artistic mood or place at one time or another — whether they are drawing forms or patterns in a sketchbook they carry with them around campus, or sitting more formally at an easel with a set of oil pastels.

“My show at Brooks and my work there sums up in many ways my philosophy: We’re all artists,” said Thomas, who works in a variety of mediums and owns Pocket Utopia gallery in New York City.

Austin Thomas’ "Collage Insight” will be the latest exhibition at the Robert Lehman Art Center on the Brooks campus. It will feature collage, sketchbooks, and source photographs. The show centers on a display case of the artist's sketchbooks.

The exhibit opened in the gallery space on Tuesday, Feb. 5, with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Click below to see the full gallery of photos from the exhibit opening.

Thomas’ drawings grace not only her sketchbooks, but also old book pages and other materials. Most of them are of modest size, “humble in materials and self-effacing in effect,” she said.

For Brooks, for the first time, Thomas will display a series of source photographs — photos that serve as an artist’s inspiration — that explore the artist’s everyday experiences.

A graduate of NYU, Thomas has been the recipient of several awards, including a current studio award from the Elizabeth Foundation, a Public Art Fund Commission, and a sculpture commission from Grinnell College.

She calls Pocket Utopia, which opened in 2007, her “day job” and being an active mom and artist fills the rest of her time. She also teaches art courses for varying ages, from little kids to high school and college students.

If it sounds like a busy existence for an artist, it is. But Thomas says that’s part of her philosophy about her art, as well.

“It’s all connected — my life isn’t necessarily separate from my art, and from my work,” she said.

Recently, on a drive to the New Jersey fabricator of the stainless steel she’ll use in an upcoming project, and she got a flat tire. As she waited for the car to be repaired, she found her way to a café, grabbed a cup of coffee and started drawing. “In some way I felt like I went to the studio,” she said. “Sketchbooks are like my traveling studio, a mobile studio.”

When working with high school students — as she will be this week with Brooks students in art classes — Thomas teaches them as she would college students.

“I talk a lot about what it means to be an artist. We’ll do something different every day; some work together, some individually. We’ll do a lot of drawing and some photography,” she explained. “We’ll be doing a lot of making and looking, applying the aesthetic of being an artist to the world outside. It’s about translating what you see into your work.”

Amy Graham, director of the Lehman Art Center, said Thomas’s work fits perfectly with the Brooks curriculum.

“She’s shown worldwide, and her artwork is incredibly strong and well received but also very accessible,” said Graham. And she knows how to work with students. “She’s all about collaboration, and that’s great for our kids.”

Thomas has exhibited nationally as well internationally in Australia, Hungary and at the Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna, Austria. In Washington, D.C., Thomas has shown at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where she is represented in the collection, and at the entrance to the Metro in Arlington, Virginia, where “Dreamer: An Eyrie Perch,” one of her public sculptures, was on view in 2006. In New York, she has exhibited at the Drawing Center, the Sculpture Center, and Storefront Gallery in Brooklyn, and in 2010, NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs awarded her a commission to create a permanent public piece for a new park in Brooklyn. Thomas’s work will be featured in an upcoming book titled “Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists.” She continues to foster community amongst artists through various curatorial projects and maintains a blog titled “Drawing on the Utopic,” where she writes about all things utopic.

She said she enjoys her life as an NYC artist and gallery owner, but she also welcomes the opportunity to get into a classroom and work with Brooks students.

“So much in New York becomes commercialized. It’s great to go up to a school, show your work and talk about it and teach it. It really just becomes about the art,” Thomas said. “That’s what I tell the students: It’s always about the art.”

If You Go
The gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to Noon. The gallery is closed during school holidays and vacations, including Nov. 5 and Nov. 17–26. Admission is free. The gallery is located within the Luce Library on campus. For directions and a campus map, click here. For more information, call Amy Graham at (978) 918-1036. To learn more about the Lehman's current and past programming please visit the Robert Lehman Art Center webpage.
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