Artist Thomas Darnell captures an array of expression in his work, from realistic landscapes and flower paintings to minimalistic abstraction. Inspired by the surroundings of his life in France, as well as the movement of pattern, light, and memory; his work is full of emotion and intrigue.
Tell us about your background; how did you begin painting? I was always interested in both art and science and had thought about medical school after graduation from the University of Texas. Instead I decided to go the art route I think because it “felt” right and also because along the way I had some really amazing art teachers early on who encouraged me. I first worked in graphic design and illustration but it wasn’t long before I realized that I wanted to pursue painting. I tried painting on the side but with my full time job and part time freelance work, I simply didn’t have time or energy to give it my all. That changed in 1990 when my first wife died from breast cancer; she had been working full-time in public relations but her true passion was creative writing and poetry. That dark period left me with a choice: fall further into depression and cling to my secure job or start a new life and make the most of the time I have left. At that time I also underwent a profound spiritual awakening and I finally felt like I had something important to say with my art. So I took the plunge, quit work, moved to Paris and started painting full time.
“I think beauty can be subversive in a positive way; it stimulates the same area in our brain that love does therefore it can be nurturing and healing.”
How would you describe or categorize your artwork? It’s hard to categorize my work because it is diverse: from realistic landscapes and flower paintings to minimalistic abstraction. My work has been linked to “Pulchrism” an art movement whereby beauty is paramount. Describing it is easier: luminous with a soothing and peaceful vibe. I think beauty can be subversive in a positive way; it stimulates the same area in our brain that love does therefore it can be nurturing and healing.
Where do you look for inspiration? Ideas for paintings seem to pop into my head from out of nowhere; it’s more of a gut feeling than something premeditated. It could also be something that presents itself in nature: the way the light falls on a tree or vista, bird murmurations, ocean waves… that inspires me to capture the feeling of that moment.
How does your home in the south of France influence your work? It is truly an aesthetic life here with beautiful small villages, rolling hills and vineyards; the quality of the light is legendary. I try to take it all in and translate that calm peacefulness into my painting. Also, I am easily distracted in cities so the slow pace of rural life gives me plenty of time to produce my work and remain focused.
What is it about flowers specifically that you’re drawn to aesthetically, as they’re a main focus of your artwork: I originally started painting flowers to exhibit with my abstract light paintings; they reinforce each other both visually and emotionally. They speak to the ephemeral, life cycles, and the beautiful positive aspects of our higher selves. The endless details can be therapeutic and the technical control I learn from producing academic realistic images enables me to make better abstract paintings.
What is your most personally moving piece to-date? I would have to say one of my abstract light paintings which chronicle a spiritual event that happened in 1989 which changed my life. Another more recent painting, ”The Sea at Night” is about the idea of acceptance and letting go. I had a battle with leukemia a few years ago and this image depicts that feeling of not knowing whether I was going to sink into the abyss or wash up to the shore.
How do you encourage creativity among your children? Kids are naturally creative and inventive although not always with the best intentions. The schools in France are very classical and traditional and the kind of environment where you are told to always color inside the lines.
I think as kids work their way through the school system their natural creativity gets further and further muted until it is killed off altogether and they become conformists. I have always tried to teach my own kids that it’s okay to color outside the lines. In fact, I used that argument when they were asking to get tattoos like all their friends; I told them it was “just so conformist and commonplace” and it has worked, at least for now. Our daughter Ava is interested in doing some kind of social work and my son Joseph is studying international commerce. I tell them to always keep their creative spirit alive as it will help them in whatever work they decide to pursue.