CONTRIBUTING ARTIST: THOMAS WHEELER
ARTIST REVIEW BY KATHERINE COOKSEY
The simplicity of the common contrast between light and dark within the artwork of Thomas Wheeler is conceptually and aesthetically alluring. At first glance Wheeler’s images are clearly photographs, perfectly precise images taken from nature at night with additional elements lit to create a haunting attractive glow beckoning the viewer closer as they move within the scene until transfixed. Wheeler directly manipulates each scene he captures using additional highlighted items, some which are recognizable like trees or rocks, while the others are reduced to mere shapes as a square or linear line. The artist’s hand is palpable within each composition decision of what remains lit. The longer time spent with each image allows the viewer to appreciate the subtleties that were once eclipsed by the contrast of the stark glow of lit elements and nature at night with softly lit stars, shimmering snow caped mountains in the distance or the shadow of footprints in the sand.
Conceptually, Wheeler’s process enhances the appreciation for how these images are created. Lose the notion of photography which can only capture a moment in time because each of these images capture several moments up to a half hour of time within onto one surface. One moment has not past but time itself is passing; this passing of time is created only by the actual passing of time not from any other outside means. The artist is not a digital photographer; he does not use photoshop or make any post production alterations. To him they are not tangible options to present the passing of time. The only way to show time passing truthfully is to have time pass. “Everything is created wholly at the time of exposure, at the scene,” said Wheeler. Nature is the backdrop for Wheeler, whose creative journey takes him out into the night of nature on the hunt to find these breathtaking scenes. The idea that this is an adventure through nature but this natural is not as we know it is part of the thought progression when we are considering each artwork and yields to a deeper layer of Wheeler concept. Aesthetically each image is attractive but that is not where the depth of Wheeler’s artworks stops. Questions remain in relation to the lit elements with the work. The red fence like glow that cuts through the middle of a mountain path feels as if it could serve as a warning path only for the daring. Trees are familiar yet when they glow, they become alien, startling and strange. Rare is the ability to glow seen in nature and it is certainly not a trait trees possess but the artist’s deliberate gesture of light within night is not merely for aesthetics but to provoke emotion and moment.
Katherine Cooksey is Art Gallery Director for the The Black board Gallery at Studio Channel Islands. Cooksey received her MFA from Pratt Institute, New York, NY. She is an artist whose works focus on the unrealistic display of the ‘perfected’ physical form and pressures to attain it.
Tom Wheeler grew up in the Northwest, in Portland, Oregon, and inherited both a passion for photography and a love of the outdoors at an early age. His father lent him his Rollei 35 rangefinder camera to use on a backpacking trip around Mt. Rainier, one of many such trips he’d taken with his dad before he was even 10, and he was hooked from then on. Later as a teen, In his own words, he was pretty “geeked out” in the fine details of print processing, scouring through old darkroom manuals to build a full processing lab in a spare bathroom at his family home.
Although he never pursued art studies seriously in college, his passion for photography continued in one form or another taking some classes at Stanford University and then later at UCLA Extension, Otis College of Art and Design, and more thoroughly at Santa Monica College (Photojournalism with the Corsair Weekly and large format studio work in full-time coursework). He was serious enough about the prospects of photojournalism that he later worked briefly with Our Times (LA Times Section) and also assisted in studios with various LA advertising and magazine photographers while struggling to start up a business in commercial recycling to assist with the bills at hand. Inspired by classical early-era “pen-light” work he had seen in college art courses,
Tom Wheeler first began experimenting with painted-light work in 1989, primarily doing light-tool drawing work in studio settings. It wasn’t until 2009 that Mr. Wheeler fully engaged in light-painting work and began to seriously push a broad spectrum of experimentation in various aspects of light-painting. It was at that time that he incorporated his love for outdoor landscape photography with light-painting, and most of his work since has been an evolution of that combination. His latest work is most accurately described as “painted-light” photography. These are nighttime long exposures with handheld light-emitting tools: Basically anything that lights up or can be lit up. My newest work uses greater experimentation with various light-conduction materials, such as Lucite sheets of plastic and acrylic rods. He does not produce anything postproduction, or via Photoshop – Everything is created wholly on location at the time of exposure.
Much of his work leans towards minimalism, brightly lighting solitary subjects among vast, awe-inducing, starry landscapes,and often the general theme is mankind’s co-existence with nature; not a statement for or against our mutual relationship, but rather a representational perspective of it. Tom believes that man has a lot to offer in terms of creation of beauty on this planet, but that we would not be able to fully appreciate it without the mystical realm of our natural environment that we are so lucky to have around us.
More information about Thomas Wheeler can be found here.
Photo at top of page: Thomas Wheeler, WALKING OUT OF THE 4TH DIMENSION (2016)