Written by: Francesca Sinnott
Pictured above: Tapestry, oil on panel, 24”x 36”
Pictured: Thomas Darsney, in front of The Hall of Presidents (60” x 40”), a picture gallery of all the U.S. presidential portraits.
My conversation with Thomas Darsney begins with a tour of his home, an “art installation” that he spent 9 years lovingly restoring and decorating. From the carved “foot steps” that climb the wall above the stairs to the large murals, every space has character and visual interest. Thomas is not only a skilled carpenter but also an artist whose interests include both painting and music composition. Also worth noting is that he is entirely self-taught.
Thomas’ subject matter as a figurative painter is more varied than any artist I have interviewed thus far. Some of his sublime paintings chronicle important historic events and figures; others are an experiment in reflection and composition. His paintings explore design, color and texture, offer a stunning collage of images or just depict some one or some thing that draws him to its beauty. Thomas is fascinated by lots of things and he is not afraid to take risks. That is the sign of a mature and confident artist. “There are no rules with my art. I never want to play it safe because my view is I have nothing to lose.” Thomas has been making a statement as a Co|So Artist Member since 2017.
“While unfortunate for many, the pandemic has given me more time to paint and compose my music”. This year Thomas has been co-arranging a series of orchestral compositions that will become part of a musical theatre story.
Thomas divides his work life between his job as union carpenter (local 327 Boston) and artist. His specialized carpentry work involves designing and building projection screens and motorized shades for high-end commercial projects. Thomas describes that as his “less exciting work”. The “real fun” begins after 2:30pm in his home studio every afternoon. Although many galleries have been temporarily closed, Thomas has sold his work through Instagram: thomasdarsney, Facebook and his website. “I have been working from hundreds of photographs I have captured over the years.”
“George” is one of a series of “sculpture in glass” paintings completed last year after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Gallery of Greek and Roman Art) and will be in the Co|So Members Show: New Beginnings, opening March 4th. “I wandered into the Met looking for glass sculptural pieces. In this gallery, to me the ‘art’ was not so much the objects under the glass as it was the glass they were encased in. I was intrigued by the reflections that occurred.” He tells me, “When you paint glass you have to paint exactly what you see, and pay attention to the nuances of the glass and how it reflects other glass.”
Pictured: George, oil on canvas, 48”x 54”
“Objects gain more importance when encased in glass, on a pedestal and surrounded by other objects. I wanted to make the viewer stop and look more closely. I placed a 2 dimensional likeness of George Washington in a room of 3 dimensional statues to remind us of an important figure in U. S. history.”
In “Profile of a Man”, Thomas sees the figurehead as a perfect silhouette in contrast with his surroundings. “I used all of the other lines in the space (track lighting, the ceiling beams, etc.) to make him the focal point.”
Pictured: Profile of a Man, oil on canvas, 30” x 48”
“With this series I intend to continue to encase other important figures and ideas that interest me. ‘Lincoln’ hovering over a pedestal will be the next figure in the encased in glass series.”
Thomas’ “Tapestry” painting is one of a series painted this past year, inspired by Johannes Vermeer. “I love how the Dutch Masters could make a central figure a focal point by surrounding it with diverse objects, while showing the purity of light and form. I enjoyed the challenge of capturing so many diverse elements in this composition. I liked the way that the light in the room was broken and diffused by these decayed, yellowing window shades. It was fun to capture the contrast between the colors, the texture of the tapestry with the reflective silk of the sofa and the gown of the young woman (Montana).” Thomas painted from many photographs of Montana in different positions with different lighting.
Pictured: Tapestry, oil on panel, 24”x 36”
Thomas will paint on linen, panel or heavy gauge canvas. Colors are more vibrant on a panel. “I enjoy working with the various mediums to thin the oil and then layer light over dark. I prefer to focus on one painting at one time because so much thought goes in to the story that each painting is telling. I like to be able make adjustments as I am going along.”
Following his study of how images can intertwine from his glass reflections, Thomas painted “Marilyn”. Note how the central figure appears as though she is standing in front of a projection screen.
Pictured: Marilyn, oil on canvas, 48” x 36”
“A Day at the Met” to me is a memory painting that captures the onslaught of images (sculptures, paintings) that one might experience and recollect after a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
Pictured: A Day at the Met, oil on linen, 40” x 30”
In this portrait of iconic figure Iris Apfel, Thomas used abstract geometric shapes to draw attention to her as the focal point.
Pictured: Iris Apfel, oil on canvas, 48” x 60”
As we conclude our Zoom, Thomas imparts this thought, “What’s rewarding in my work is being able to take ideas that some people might find crazy and turn them into something that is provocative and pleasing all at once.”