Although Marie Thibeault's paintings look frenetic at first glance--teeming with blocks of bold, jumbled color and scrupulous brushstrokes, mixing representational elements and pure, abstract form with disquieting abandon--it doesn't take long for one to see that they are, in fact, deeply considered and elaborately realized. Beneath their seemingly chaotic debris fields, there is an implicit, even desperate, quest for order. From amid the shards, hints of familiar objects emerge: in her last body of work, which addressed Hurricane Katrina, shells of cars, walls, windows, mattresses... The furiously fragmentary landscapes she evokes are both physical and allegorical. In a world choking with information overload and beset by natural and manmade disasters, they are symbolic frameworks for negotiating the volcanic instability that seems to underlie even the most normal, solid-seeming structures of our lives. They are also incredibly beautiful, offering sumptuous push-pull dialogues of unlikely colors and brilliant jousting matches between color and form. "I teach advanced color theory so I'm always looking at that stuff," Thibeault explains. "I'm into the whole history of it--Albers, Hofmann, Rothko... I'm kind of immersed in that and it influences the work. The challenge for me, that I'm always struggling with, is to reconcile my love of drawing with my love of pure color. They really don't like to be together, because they have different functions."
A teacher at CSU Long Beach for over 20 years, Thibeault lives in San Pedro, on the edge of Long Beach and the sprawling cargo port of Los Angeles; beyond, the coastal horizon is decked with towering refineries that cast spindly silhouettes by day and glitter menacingly by night. On the day that I meet her, her studio, a white-walled shed behind her home, is lined with paintings and drawings of all sizes and colors, in various stages of progress; before them on the floor are small stacks of scrappy color charts. She has recently completed a "one-night Kamikaze show" at Post Gallery in Downtown LA, of fifty drawings made on Yupo, a synthetic paper. "Oh, I draw like crazy," she says eagerly. "The drawing is where I think. I can't do without it."
In contrast to the immediacy of her drawings, the paintings that grow out of them are often prolonged affairs, made up of numerous layers with lots of trial and error. Often, she works on 10-15 pieces at once; the length of time spent on each work varies from as short as five days to "about a year, or until somebody takes it away from me." Although many of the works seem to suggest perspectives, they shift constantly as she engages the work from various orientations. "They're like these skewed things... I'm always inverting them. I do it like 100 times. It's not like I know what I'm doing. It's a desperation move," she laughs. "You're wrestling with this thing. It's always right around the corner. You can't see it because you haven't seen it before."
Thibeault's newest works takes as their subject e-waste, their abstracted landscapes strewn with accreted piles of discarded electronic devices, monitors, computers, wiring and the like. "That's what we're exporting," she observes, nodding toward the cargo port outside. Other works, like Rigged, which she created while the Deepwater Horizon was leaking, bring in separate, equally unsettling, environmental references. "I don't take just one image," she says, of her patchwork sources. "It's kind of a Frankenstein thing, I take many images from a massive image bank. They are constructed from pieces... To feed my imagination, I'm always looking for new structures. I'm interested in physics, systems, structures," she adds, citing in particular the late quantum physicist David Bohm. "When a system gets so chaotic that it loses its structure, it gets layered, overburdened... it emerges as a better structure, a higher order. And that's what happens in my painting. Sometimes it doesn't work. But that's what I'm going for."
"Marie Thibeault: Recent Paintings" will be on view from March 15 - April 16, 2011, at George Lawson Gallery, in San Francisco. www.georgelawsongallery.com