Interview with Oakland Artist, MoE Thomas

by admin on June 9, 2013

Artist MoE Thomas greeted Oakland Art Enthusiast at the steps of his live/work space near the border of West Oakland. From the outside, the tall building with a subtle industrial feel feels like a transplant among all the older turn of the century, Victorian buildings nearby. Originally from the Mid-West, Thomas has just recently begun to devote more time to his practice, which has been a lifelong passion. “Sculpture has always appealed to me because it does not need to always give the illusion of a third dimension, it simply is. Why be limited with only pigment and surface? It is forceful and can scream at you, and at the same time the echo can eclipse the voice.”

MoE’s Oakland studio

A self-taught artist, Thomas sees his lack of formal training an advantage: “I don’t know how, and I like that — I just do.” The artist is however well-read on the history of sculpture, found art, and assemblage, continuing to learn by his greatest influences. “I love Herms,” he says simply. The influence is strong. Like George Herms, many of Thomas’ works are amalgamations of objects so finely crafted that somehow it all make sense, while frozen in arrested decay that both reveal their age while overcoming it. Thomas’ three-dimensional artistic compositions made from found objects also reflect upon the objects’ loss of utility: “All things discarded or lost once had a home and a purpose, though they might have not been truly seen or simply mundane but when I take them from a slumber and breathe new life….it’s exciting.”

In addition to his interest in discarded, found objects, his subject matter is also quite nostalgic, from pin-up girls, baby dolls to appropriated  portraits of Native Americans, or historic photographs during this  time of American encroachment. There is a palpable sense of attempting to honor what is lost to time, and an eloquent examination  of what it means to belong. Thomas explains his interest in this historic period: “I grew up with my grandmother who was Cherokee from Oklahoma and was always exposed to the stories of her grandmother and to the plight of her people. The men had a great obsession with the imagery and to the proud male warrior, stoic in character and noble in spirit. It is something I connect with manhood, pride, family, community and a host of things.”

MoE Thomas in his Oakland studio

 Our interview with MoE took place just a few weeks before his dual show with artist Evan “ESK” Wilson, “Struggle for Perspective” opened, which is now currently on view at The McLoughlin Gallery at 49 Geary in San Francisco. It examines both artists’ interests in implementing recycled objects as art. His ideas for artworks span across mediums and materials, many he cannot realize on his own, but that doesn’t seem to deter him. “When I know what something is to become, which is very fast, a flash really, it is clear to about 90 percent of the outcome,” he says. “But to reach this goal I get help from some great people who help me realize it. I conceptualize it, and have help realizing it.”  As an example, he leads us to an all but finished piece, “A Heavy Life” including just about every medium: fabric, upholstery batting, wood veneer, and a ceramic head sliced into equal sections. “There will also be a glass heart here hanging on a string with liquid inside, and this box here has a small motor in it, so that the heart will vibrate.” Thomas’ works in the show are some of his most personal and evocative to date, including desiccated rose petals from his grandmother’s garden in one installation to the large crucifix in the corner that examines, as Thomas says “man’s obsession with beauty and the sinister side of it.”

“Struggle for Perspective,” new work by MoE Thomas and Evan “ESK” Wilson will be on view at The McLoughlin Gallery through June 22nd.