Les Thomas | Biography

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Media Description: oil/waxes on canvas


Les Thomas has long recognized painting as a language in its own right, and its diversity in terms of poetic and conceptual messages, exhibited by each individual picture.

Les Thomas' education is indicative of his dedication to his chosen profession as an artist. He sifts through a wide variety of visual sources for the imagery in his work. The influence of his view of painting as a very noble activity is combined with his acknowledgement that it can be inventive and enjoyable for both the artist and the viewer. The other major influence is culture, in its broadest terms, including all aspects of our everyday life.

Les Thomas' animal paintings tend to play with the relationship between culture and nature. The special encaustic wax finish that he applies, he explains, "may very well pertain to memory, and the manner in which we hold visual experiences within the capacities for recollection. Think of the last time you encountered a bear on the roadside, or craned your neck to watch a mountain goat or sheep on a steep and rocky slope."

Les Thomas, as a highly accomplished artist has received many awards for his work, and been featured in several publications, and has his paintings in public and private collections in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. and Germany.

Artist Statement

I began painting about 20 years ago. My earlier formative years were spent training in a rather traditional manner, as well as doing my best to comprehend the nature of the contemporary Artworld. My reason for taking this line of action had to do with my belief that well crafted pictures were something that the ever-changing fashion of "cutting edge" art would push into near obscurity. So I spent my time traveling in order to study painting first hand, all the while reading a great deal of theory and criticism.

Although this list always changes, there are three painters whose work I greatly admire: Diego Velazquez, Georgio Morandi and the contemporary Gerhard Richter. There was a period of time whereas I found the Canadian Tony Scherman very inspirational, but for a number of reasons that is no longer the case even though my use of wax and a number of traditional conventions are components we both enlist. And this leads me to an important point.

As much as I have told gallery people, I do not paint in true encaustic. Rather, I "use" waxes of various concoctions in tandem with a variety of paint applications in order to make pictures. In my opinion, painting in a true encaustic style bleeds into paint pigments of their true potential and expressive authority. That the layering and characteristic of wax is in fashion -in terms of the contemporary Artworld- does not interest me at all. The waxes I use are but one component of the pictures that I make.

As for the motivation behind my work, I suppose I don't know what else I would rather do other than paint. I have taught art at various institutional levels but still prefer to invest my time in the studio. Institutions have their place but believe I don't have one in them.

When recently asked, I described the current style of my painting to be a hybrid of abstraction and representation. For the most part, the imagery I place in my pictures are the pretexts I need in order to further explore pictorial possibilities. This is not to suggest that they are random and therefore inconsequential. To begin with, and with very few exceptions, I tend to use sub-narrative imagery. By that I mean representations that don't belong to any kind of story, news event, or time line. If I am interested in a narrative or sense of time it has to do with the viewer's inspections of the painting as a visual field, that is as an object open for inspection from any particular starting point. Although it is something I cannot control, I do not want people to dwell on the image alone.

As someone once remarked, my paintings tend to look more expressive that they actually are, and that surfaces are in fact quite fine. This is because some of the most expressive marks are quite often embedded in the wax, and are therefore below the surface, as though they were framed behind glass. In my mind this characteristic contradicts our notion of expression that is a residual deposit of a raw creative action. Regarding the above mentioned exploration of pictorial possibilities, I will comment on my paintings being predominantly square in format. Combined with my tendency to place a single image in the centre of each panel, I suppose I consider the square shape to be ideal for maintaining my focus on each panel as a visual field. I guess it would be fair to say I approach each painting as a sort of test tube or target of some kind.



1996-98 Master of Fine Arts: University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta,
1991-92 Post-graduate Studies: Slade School of Fine Arts, University College
London, London, England
1986-90 Bachelor of Fine Arts: University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta,

Solo Public Exhibitions
2012 Solo Exhibition, Canada House Gallery, Banff, AB
2010 Diehl Gallery, Jackson, WY, USA
2010 Solo Exhibition, Canada House Gallery, Banff, AB
2008 Beare Udell Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
2008 Recent Paintings Canada House Gallery, Banff, Alberta, Canada
2007 Arrested Images Udell Contemporary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
2007 Recent Paintings Canada House Gallery, Banff, Alberta, Canada
2004 Beneath Surfaces Am Eichholz Galerie, Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Munich ),
2001 Picturing with Paint Galerie Due, Bochum, Germany
1996 Illuminated by Color Medicine Hat Museum & Art Gallery, Medicine Hat,
Alberta, Canada
1993 Singular Adventures GSL Galleries, London, England
1992 Paint-ings by... Alberta House, London, England

Group Public Exhibitions

2000 Canadian Survey Udell Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia
1999 Eat the Music The Little Gallery, University of Calgary, Calgary,
1998 Nineteen-Ninety-Eight Nickel Arts Museum, Calgary, Alberta
1997 Neoteric Beaver House, Edmonton, Alberta (AFA Collection)
1997 Paint-ings Profiles Gallery, St. Albert, Alberta
1996 ECAS Annual Strathcona Arts Centre, Edmonton, Alberta
1996 Still Life McMullen Gallery, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta
1996 40 Degrees Celsius Commerce Place Gallery, Edmonton, Alberta
1995 Introducing... The Glenbow Museum and Art Gallery, Calgary, Alberta
1991 Real Life Observed Harcourt House Public Art Gallery, Edmonton, Alberta

Awards and Scholarships

2000-01 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1999 Canada Council Travel Grant
1999 College Art Association Conference Travel Grant (Los Angeles,
1998-99 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1998 Governor General's Gold Medal Award: Nominee (University of Calgary)
1996-97 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1996 Dean's Special Entrance Scholarship (University of Calgary)
1994-95 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1992-93 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Project Grant
1992 Winspear Educational Development Scholarship
1992 Alberta Foundation for the Arts Travel Grant
1991 British Council Grant (Slade School of Fine Art)
1990 Florence Adison Scholarship: Painting (University of Alberta)
1990 Universiade Scholarship: Painting (University of Alberta)
1990 Alberta Heritage Scholarship: Painting (University of Alberta)
1989 Seven Arts Club Award: Painting (University of Alberta)


Alberta Foundation for the Arts Canada Council Air Canada (Calgary)
University of Calgary
Ranger Oil (England) Alberta House (England)
Grant McEwan Community College
Hilton Hotels (Whistler) Avenir Capital Corp. (Calgary)
Chateau Lake Louise
Blue River Heli Tours Shaw Cable
GSL (Milford, England)
Nesbitt Burns (Calgary) Most Work (G-A-P, Germany)

Publications / Conferences
1999 "Painting in the Digital Age" 87th Annual CAA Conference: Los Angeles, California
1998 600 Years of Coloured Mud...Graduate Studies Thesis: University of Calgary (Published)
1998 "The Quandaries of Art School Education" In-Tention Conference:University of Calgary (Published)
1997 "Beholden to Beauty: Revisiting Kant" Vancouver Art Gallery/Nickel ArtsMuseum, Calgary, Alberta