Desire and Inquiry: The Art of Claire Thorson


An Appreciation by Tom Maderos

There are contradictions, questions, and overlapping truths in Claire Thorson’s art—in other words, it’s visionary as well as optical. Light advances on shadow, then turns away from it; space is made from its own obstructions. In a painting like Tumble, color may thicken into surface and mass, four joined lines of a similar blue might be a box or a back, but they are always also the features of a map. It’s a map of the painter’s path of construction and the possible path of reconstruction by the viewer.

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Between representation and abstraction, the only barrier to insight is our so-called misunderstanding; but in front of one of these drawings or paintings, we understand physically. Instead of an ambiguity of form there’s an ambidexterity of landscape and figure. Here, the viewer stands at the crossroads of desire & inquiry.  If we see in fragments, the interlocking brushstrokes might be several distinct figures; seen as a whole, a bay and coastline are in a single human contour. There’s the generative yellow-green of late Spring, where color becomes the shape of a figure, one that doesn’t merge with the suggestion of natural space but instead is
interpenetrated by it.

A painter may go into her studio with a purpose, but the engagement of brush on canvas, or chalk on paper can record a break in the chain of intention. In art, especially in drawing, a distinction is often made between what we observe and what we invent, but both invention and close observation can be forms of reverie.  Like any good quantum mechanic, a painter moves the pieces around and notes the shift in heart-rate.

The practical and spiritual value in questioning perception is clearly present in these images. We most often feel that we are moving through the world, but at other times it seems as if the world is moving through us. When these two perceptions are placed side by side, as they often are in Claire Thorson’s work, the resultant sense of “reality” is fluid and multi-dimensional—3, 4, 5-D or more.

The individual images, seen here in series, generate their own history, and the relationship of drawing to painting strengthens. These are public marks of a private activity. Conventions for the illusion of depth and the color-indicators for skin or sky are adopted from the artist’s experience. In a drawing, black charcoal lines question the distinction between an arm and the movement of an arm, yet these same conventions are subtly modified in painting. The lushness of a drawn line and the lushness of a painted section can be roughly equivalent but never the same. Compare the drawing Transparency Of Time with the painting Arrival and see what I mean.

Art history as well as personal history threads its way through these images, but the game of “Spot The Influence” that bedevils most criticism is ultimately just a distraction.  Artists have always tried to extend as well as honor inherited traditions. Claire Thorson’s work moves in that direction.  What we see in her drawings and paintings feels lyrical and true.

—Tom Maderos


Text © Tom Maderos, all rights reserved.
(Tom Maderos is a painter & writer who lives in Santa Cruz, California. You can see his work at “Paint & Words” )
Artwork © Claire Thorson, all rights reserved.

Video: Claire Thorson, Search for the Return

This time-lapse movie by Nada Miljkovic captures the drawing process of visual artist and educator Claire Thorson’s exhibition.

Nada Miljkovic is the owner of Artist on Art, a Santa Cruz company helping people tell their stories. She produces videos and is the radio host of KZSC’s Artists on Art (Wednesdays at noon). For contact information and to see more of her work, go to
Claire Thorson Image Gallery: click to enlarge
All Artwork  © Claire Thorson protected under U.S. and International Law. Other than for exhibition related uses, no part of this material can be altered, reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without prior written permission of the copyright owner and artist, Claire Thorson. This includes all rights now in existence or which may hereafter come into existence, including but not limited to authorship, documentation, lectures, or any other creation or presentation by Claire Thorson in any artistic medium, print, audio, electronic, video, CD ROM, photographic, digital, film, and any future medium.

19 thoughts on “Desire and Inquiry: The Art of Claire Thorson

  1. What a wonderful “exhibit”! Tom Madera’s essay enhanced it considerably for me, too. I don’t know who Claire Thorson is, and it would serve me for you to include some basic information like where she lives, the dates of her work, where her work can be seen or is published, something of her life. Regardless, I’m grateful for this glimpse of her art. I agree with Tom that it’s more than 3-D, and I’d love to have it hanging on my walls! Imagine. Thanks, Jane

  2. Amazing. I have been working with water color pencils, oil and chalk pastels. Some of my work in in a similar vein.

    I would like to see these paintings in person. I think that they are great.

  3. A timely and well considered collection of work.
    Ms Thorson is a very thoughtfull artist and teacher.
    It is exciting to see her recent work put together in one
    I feel her work is pertinent to our time.
    Have not yet seen the show, am looking forward to it.

    For more about Claire Thorson and her work,
    A podcast (recent interview) will soon be available from UCSC

    For more about Claire Thorson and her work….
    A podcast (recent interview) will soon be available from UCSC

  4. Thank you, Claire, for sharing your beautiful work with us all, and thank you, Tom, for sharing your wisdom and insights. Gorgeous exhibit!

  5. Congratulations Claire, painter’s painter, the urgency and emphatic color and marking is strong and genuine. So great to see your paintings here Claire.

  6. Claire, I would so love to be able to see your whole catalogue of works from over the years… so many treasures. Thank you for sharing your work with us. I look forward to more shows in the future.

  7. It’s wonderful to see your process from blank canvas to finished piece. Powerful artwork, Claire.

  8. I admire Claire Thorson as an artist as well as an art instructor. To me, her work is dynamic and truly inspiring. It is great to be able to take a glimpse of how she creates her work. And, I would love to see more of it.

  9. Powerful, elemental work, Claire. Congratulations! I loved seeing the time-lapse video and your virtuoso use of contour and gestural line with the figure.

  10. Thank you for the images of Claire’s paintings and the video–it’s an interesting way to see the work unfolding.

  11. Hi
    Claire – I’m not going to comment on the art because I don’t know enough but it is wonderful to see it and you in the video. It has been too many years since Escondido! Take care!

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