Between painting, engraving and sculpture
The painting has become a trace, a definite representation, frozen in the present of the gaze of those who consider it. Coming from a historicised tradition, it doesn’t summon with immediacy the temporal dimensions, except in its active reading and in the perspective of its being in the world. Here reside elements dear to Thomas who, when he creates, puts himself in a position to be particularly sensitive to missing dimensions of a medium. Temporality and musicality of the painting, space and proprioceptive components of the music, unique character of the engraving in its serial process through the recourse to the monotypes in the Ran…This is what Thomas Colletʼs art has been built on for decades.
Thomas thus affirms that he never left the path of painting and indeed, like a painter facing his medium, he constantly confronts matter, the medium, in its possibilities as much as in its limits, in its happy coincidences, occasional serendipity as in accidents that involve making a choice, at the time of the crossroads. In addition, the oil colours, used by Thomas instead of traditional inks in engraving, bring by their pigmentation a singular intensity, as much as they actively participate in the process of creation of the Ran.
The chromatic birth of each of the «individuals» that make up a Ran is effected by the passage in engravind press, repeated passage after a carefully determined drying time. The marble plate chosen as an area of chromatic elaboration is transformed into an infinite tank of colored variations that come to marry the cotton paper, successively and according to the principles of the complementarity of the colors. It is by infusion, impregnation, diffusion and integration that the paper is gradually adorned with subtle chromatisms. A Ran is created through the efflorescence of these generations.
At the interstices of this serial approach, incidents and small inclusions operated by Thomas using additions and withdrawals, partial detachments of successive layers and splinters make up an infinite set of reliefs welcomed by the artist in order to distinguish each of these paper rectangles, these monotypes baptized « individuals ».
Three surfaces are convoked in this process; if they remain excluded from the final work «Ran», they nevertheless constitute a patrimony that the artist preserves. More than testimonies, they are fellow travellers, probable seeds of future works. First of all, there is the marble plate, which Thomas uses as a pastry chef: he works with its material, mixes its colours, and from time to time includes ashes, spices, dust…vestiges of a materiality transmuted by fire or by time. The colour tones are then taken from the roller of the engraver, via a rhodoid matrix fixed on a cardboard which is almost never cleaned. Here the paper is colored, previously carefully torn, according to a step imprinted with an erotic tone. There will remain the ghosts of the «individuals» who are destined to pass under the engraving press. Already, the entropic dimension is at work, on the marble plate, on the inking matrix and on the roll. The colors respond: not so far from the «correspondences» dear to the Baudelarian aesthetic.
From an identical initial paper support, from the same matrix of oil inks and pigments, from the same process of updating rise hundreds, thousands of individuals with a unique plastic character. At the general rule of three colour transitions on the same paper support, Thomas adjusts when it becomes necessary this process so that ethics never becomes a repetitive and sterile system. Linseed oil, turpentine oil, water: nothing is left aside to work the viscosities and transparencies of glazes, typical of the work of oil pigments. Thus, the Ran carries in itself the identical and the singular, ambivalence resolved by Thomas with the metaphor of civilization.
At the limits of reverie and engineering, Thomas designs, with materials chosen for their natural qualities (mainly wood and iron), the support that will host, in situ, the setting up of the «individuals» of the Ran in a «reception basin». The artist then moves as a builder. Wood species in line with the geographical area of the exhibition, creation of studs and mortises in order to assemble the elements in an ephemeral manner, second-hand nails and a combustion tool to give wood, sometimes, the intensity of charcoal black: each piece chosen is based on principles of economy, ecology and respect for a multi-century know-how. All the more so since Thomas is committed to preserving the integrity of the exhibition space.
In addition to these material elements, the artist makes learned calculations: those, of course, which offer to the whole of the ranks a unity in the precarious overlap of the «individuals»; those, above all, which play with the principles of perspective and entropy. For it is from the place where the Ran will be nestled that the dimensions of the work
flow: Thomas has this eye sensitive to architecture and volume which offers him to conceive a work which, if it occupies the space visually, never hinders its global reading. It recalls the long tradition of European masters who, since the High Middle Ages, have conceived «a» work for «a» place.
Like the theorists of the art of Renaissance Humanism, Thomas has also always paid attention to the dimensions of his works so that they remain in a ratio where his body constitutes the primordial reference: man measures all things, art measures man, art meets nature. The efficient knowledge in perspective also takes into account the spectator who will come to meet the Ran: so that the experience is total, Thomas proceeds to a progressive «uprising» of the ranks so that, according to principles that are not very far from anamorphosis, a particular point of view allows an unified vision.
Between performance, installation and overall system
The commitment of Thomas, corporeal, intellectual and spiritual, is total: the process of birth of a Ran is long, very long. Several years may be necessary for this multi-faceted development. The private part of the work in isolation at the workshop is considerable. Thomas makes it, if not visible, at least partially accessible, with photos, videos and other recordings that, by effects of accumulation and acceleration, raise a little of the veil from the mysterious part of the conception of the work of art.
The corporeal performance continues with the establishment of the structure, the supports and finally of each «individual» in a symphonic time where are added, to better respond in co-construction, preconception and improvisation. The « individuals » are not numbered for their installation and no plan is drawn up beforehand. Thomas allowed himself to be guided by the light and the qualities, volume and sound, of the space of which he took temporary rental. Hours and hours of setting up exercise the sagacity of the eye of the artist who operates like a painter with his palette, in order to compose a final «painting», carried by the multiple colored nuances.
The spectator can only feel in a strong and sensitive way the invitation of Thomas to taste the Ran under the multiple aspects that the exhibition place can make possible. Static and contemplative, walking and curiously approaching the collection here assembled: the passage from the microcosm of the «individual» to the macrocosm of the «basin» plays in continuous reverberations with the eye of the viewer who also experiments the sound of the place, the impact of small dusts and small slips which, inexorably, become more visible as the time of exhibition.
Between tradition and modernity
While delicately, the Ran suggests all that it carries within itself of a know-how and a technicality inherited from the time of the craftsmen and the workshops of the old masters. Discreetly and humbly, Thomas reminds us of the magnificent conjunction of natural elements with so- called artistic elements created by the hand of the man-artist. Asceticism and the rigour of everyday life, erring ways, doubts and mistakes do not tell each other more than they show themselves. Everything is there, however, within the grasp of the connoisseur of what it takes, de facto, to «create a work». In other times, Thomas might have been «ymagier», shaping his support, in conscience, with in mind, the promise of what will happen during his «monstration», in a single place and for a specific audience.
The scope of this material and conceptual work corresponds to a poetic one. That of the precarious and magnificent balance of the human race in the face of the impossible total or continuous control of the creative process. A poetics that underlines, like a stroke of a pen, the permanent reactions and adaptations to the environment in which an «individual» deploys his life. A tasty poetic that tells us, just as much, that the inter- connections that we have to make, today and now, do not exclude, never elude, the individual and singular expression.
Virginie Tillier, Doctor of Art History, july 2021