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Artist Barbara Campbell Thomas

Barbara Campbell Thomas’s paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States, including the Weatherspoon Art Museum, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, The Painting Center, the Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and the North Carolina Museum of Art. Her most recent body of work was featured in a 2021 solo exhibition at Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina. Barbara Campbell Thomas attended Skowhegan, as well as residencies at the Hambidge Center and the Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency. She is a recipient of the North Carolina Artist Fellowship. Barbara Campbell Thomas lives and works in Climax, North Carolina. She is a Professor of Art in the School of Art at UNC Greensboro.

"My paintings harness geometric abstraction and a materially diverse surface of paint, collage and sewn fabric to explore how the everyday experience of living and being is an arena for spiritual perception. I make paintings to understand facets of reality invisible to the human eye, but perceivable through other senses. By making paintings—by moving paint around year after year until I grasp some of what paint is and how it functions—I have come to see painting as a practice which allows me incremental knowledge of what it is to inhabit a living, breathing human body. As my understanding of what paint is unfolds, through the movement and experience of my body, I see comprehension of painting is analogous to comprehension of being. I see painting as analogous to being. Pathways to comprehension of painting and being are similarly life long, and in both instances, one is engaging with an experience that is simultaneously material and immaterial, with an experience in which the corporeal (paint and the body) is a gateway into the metaphysical."

Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.

I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and am the daughter of two educators. Being immersed in a family that deeply valued curiosity and reading was the perfect incubator for me as an artist. I recall summers pretty much spent cultivating my imagination as I sprawled out on our back porch reading one novel after another. By high school, I knew I was going to be an artist, so I went on to study painting at Penn State, where I received my BFA. I moved to California for graduate school, completing an MFA at UC Berkeley. I have been fortunate to study with some extraordinary painters, including Helen O'Leary and Squeak Carnwath.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the people who raised me, I am an artist and a teacher, and for me the two roles intertwine. I was just promoted to the rank of full Professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where I am lucky to work within an amazing community of artist colleagues, teaching first year through graduate level art students. I have been teaching for over 20 years. These years of making art and teaching have taught me that I learn to be more human by making art, and I learn how to be a teacher by being an artist. Art is the source of everything for me.

What kind of work are you currently making?

My current body of work explores the conversation between languages of painting and quilting. I am trying to understand how painting and abstraction might become more complex and particular while in relation to fabric and quilting languages. This dialogue helps me see how abstraction might find rootedness in work that is traditionally thought to be "women's work."

What is a day like in the studio for you?

I am an early morning painter--it's when I can think most clearly and when my house is most quiet. (I have two children, and they are still asleep this early in the morning.) I wake up at 5am, make myself a strong cup of earl grey tea and get out to my studio, which is a converted garage just off my back porch. I try to get an hour or two in each morning, and then usually have to break to get kids to school or get ready for my own day of teaching. My teaching schedule is such that I can usually dedicate 2-3 days to my studio practice each week, so on the days I don't teach, I try to be back in the studio by 9 or 10 and work until school pick up. Evenings are spent with my family, though sometimes I use the time to read or draw, and if I am in the midst of a tricky painting, I can usually poke my head into the studio for a few minutes to look and think and prepare for the next morning. I am definitely at a stage in my life where I have pretty firmly set times when I can be in the studio and when I cannot, so I have to discipline myself to take advantage of any time that emerges. Luckily, as an artist I have learned that time can expand; sometimes an hour of time can be as productive as a full day when focus is present.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading?

I recently listened to an extraordinary interview with the writer Jhumpa Lahiri on the "Time Sensitive Podcast" and that has sent me back to Lahiri's novels. She's definitely a favorite writer of mine. Currently, I am reading her novel "Whereabouts" and plan on re-reading her collection of stories "The Interpreter of Maladies" next. Fiction aligns well with my painting brain. In terms of looking: I am captivated by the paintings of Marilyn Lerner at the moment, as well as Anni Albers' weavings.

Where can we find more of your work?

You can find my work on Instagram (@barbaracampbellthomas) as well as my website, I work with Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina and they always have a good range of my paintings, I also work with the online gallery platform Artsuite,

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