Residency inspires abstract works as environmental commentary
Story and Photos By Cathy Carroll
Painter Marie Thibeault’s abstract works focus on the geometry between the sky, land and natural forces. Much of her work has addressed the tension between the urban landscape and the natural world, something prevalent in her daily life in Los Angeles. Driving over bridges from her home in San Pedro to Cal State University Long Beach, where she taught for the past 33 years, offered an expansive view of the sprawling stacks of shipping containers in the Port of Los Angeles.
Her residency at the ranch afforded vast views of an utterly different sort — meadows, mountains, forest and Whychus Creek meandering just beyond her door. Much of her work is large-scale works in oil, and at the ranch, her process has been to begin with an accumulation of drawings.
“I’m interested in the dynamics of different forces,” said Thibeault. Sunsets, skies, fence posts made of rock-filled wire mesh cages, small bridges over the creek, the way shadows hit the water, atmospheric conditions — the forces between one element and the next — inspired her.
Local artist and teacher Carolyn Platt brought her to Sahali and Proxy falls, west of Sisters in the Three Sisters Wilderness, and the lush, dense, mossy forest was a new experience for Thibeault.
Back at the ranch, she worked in gouache, ink pens, and layered the drawings with white gesso. “I make forms sometimes and repeat them to create movement, a sense of shifting time and space,” she said. “I use them as a metaphor for containers or containment, but it can also be a body or a figure or tree. It’s a commentary on the environment right now — what we can contain — the changes and the environmental damage. It’s also an abstract structure that I’m working with — what can hold together and what falls apart in the tension between these two things.”
One of her newer abstract paintings is about 6-and-a-half feet by 7 feet, with an architectural shape of shipping containers stacked in the harbor and forming a mountain of sorts, beneath the shape of an inverted, dead tree. Layers of color enhance the land-and-sky tension, a major tenet of landscape painting.
“I ended up thinking that this painting was about a portrait of California, so I named it Golden State,” said Thibeault. “It has to do with fire, the drought, things that we’re dealing with environmentally. My work has always been about environmental issues.”
The 2022 artist residency theme at the ranch, coexistence and regeneration, was compelling to the artist. “The whole environment is threatened with collapse, globally, and regeneration is that idea of the fulcrum. Some things can collapse, but they can come back up again. There’s this constant movement of breaking down and building up again, there’s choices that we have in that structure, architecturally or philosophically or politically.”
Shortly after arriving at the ranch, however, she tested positive for Covid, so she remained isolated from others, and didn’t get as much work done as she’d expected. Thibeault felt, though, that she had gained from the experience. “I have taken in so much of the landscape and it’s been unbelievably beautiful — sunsets and the full moon,” she said. “I’m really grateful.”