Princeton resident and internationally renowned artist Thomas George is inspired by landscapes — including Monet’s gardens, Giverny, Renoir’s gardens, and the Welsh garden of Bodnant — as well as the Southwest. Born in 1918 in New York, the son of famous illustrator Rube Goldberg. He has lived in London, Japan, Scandinavia, and Italy, and his work is included in the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, Whitney, the National Museum of American Art in Washinton, D.C., the Tate Gallery in London, and the Bridgestone Museum in Tokyo, among others. A 1940 graduate of Dartmough College, he served in the Navy in World War II for three years, then studied art in Paris and Florence under the G.I. Bill.
His new work — drawings and pastels — is on view through Thursday, April 6, at the Rider University Art Gallery. Below is an excerpt from a conversation between Thomas George and Harry I Naar, professor of fine arts and gallery director, Rider University, which is printed in the exhibit catalog.
How do you go about making your large black-and-white ink drawings?
I attack the paper with ink, water, and brush, and I carefully observe what is evolving on the paper. These drawings are the result of years of thinking, experimenting, and keeping alive a passionate interest in my subject matter. When I’m making a drawing I travel “the razor’s edge.” One side of the razor is technical skill; the other side is feeling. An artist has to be feeling as well as thinking and executing. If you fall off the razor’s edge, you end up (depending on which side you fall) either with deficient technique or mere decoration.
At the recent Van Gogh show at the Metropolitan Museum, I noticed that in some of his ink drawings, Van Gogh used pencil to sketch the composition. In your ink drawings, do you sketch an underlying pattern or otherwise create marks to give you a “road map”?
No, I go at it with brush, water, and ink directly. Over the years, I’ve used this technique a good deal out-of-doors, working immediately from nature. Often the work doesn’t succeed, so I destroy it and begin again. I don’t make any underlying marks to guide me.
One of the most beautiful qualities of your drawings is the abstract relationship you develop between the black brush lines and the white space. The Chinese as well as some western artists — Cezanne, for example — believed that the design of a painting or drawing must take into account not only the objects depicted, but also the spaces around and between the objects. What are your thoughts about the white spaces or “empty areas” in your drawings?
I try to be attentive and inventive in that magic moment when the white paper is suddenly transformed by the black marks I make upon it. As I proceed there comes the time when the accumulation of black marks creates the impression of white marks on black space. I play with this idea differently in various drawings.
Like Cezanne, with Mon Ste. Victoire, or Monet with his water lilies, you often revisit certain landscapes. For example, you worked for many years in the Lofoten Mountains in Norway or the pond at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Why do you like to work with the sources of visual inspiration repeatedly?
Well, I never feel as though I’m repeating myself in a mechanical or superficial way; there is always more to see or to see in different ways. Moreover, the places I’ve chosen for inspiration are not static; they are endlessly changing — with light, weather, perspective, and so on. But I like to return to the same scenes largely because I believe that repetition can be a path to wisdom, and that wisdom is an essential part of meaninful originality.
Are there any other thoughts you might like to share?
I believe that, if you live long enough, you will discover that ideas and events repreat themselves with surprising frequency. Everything is new and nothing is new, so I feel we must be open-minded and receptive and yet, at the same time, steadfast in our beliefs. If we have confidence in our artistic skills and have a passionate interest in something in life, we can make art that connects. The needs of the artist and the viewer will thus be fulfilled.
Thomas George: New Work — Drawings and Pastels, through Thursday, April 6, Rider University Art Gallery, Luedeke Center, Lawrenceville. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. 609-896-5033.
Also, Music for Flute, Oboe, and Guitar, Thursday, March 23, 7 p.m., Westminster Conservatory of Music, Rider University Art Gallery. The trio Serenata featuring Katherine McClure, flute; Melissa Bohl, oboe; and James Day, guitar, present a recital. They will perform “Canyon Echoes” by Katherine Hoover, “Uirapuru” by Tom Eastwood, and “Ecloques” by Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco. Free. 609-921-2663.