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Art Sync: Rhythmic Velocities

A conversation with Thomas Paul Raggio by Elizabeth Johnson, edited by Matthew Crain

March 2022

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ART SYNC: RHYTHMIC VELOCITIES

A conversation with Thomas Paul Raggio

by Elizabeth Johnson, edited by Matthew Crain, 2022

Forever V (Forever Series), 20" x 20", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Forever V (Forever Series), 20" x 20", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Elizabeth Johnson: Your work seems to build on the color-focused branch of abstraction or formalism that springs from Piet Mondrian and Joseph Albers. I sense echoes of Sol LeWitt, Al Held, Frank Stella, and Dorothea Rockburne, particularly because they approach drawing and color as you do. Who were your influences?

Thomas Paul Raggio: Barnett Newman, Morris Louis, Roy Lichtenstein are the major ones that come to mind. During a studio residency in Australia, I studied with Jenny Watson, Julie Fraser, and Mostyn Bramley-Moore.

EJ: Your statement says you are “interested in the duality of math and design: through repetition, a line of color becomes a rhythmic pattern. This concept is found when composing music, organic landscapes and architectural structure.” Stephen Westfall emphasizes the importance of architecture. Was he a big influence when you studied at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers?

 

TPR: When I arrived at Mason Gross, Stephen had just won the Rome Prize, so Thomas Nozkowski had the biggest impact on my studio process. I can identify his work from across a room––without needing to read the label. His work is instantly recognizable. By my second year, Stephen had returned and he helped me consider narrative as well as how to steer a series of work. As for math and architecture, I had early exposure through my family. I keep a music studio now and compose music with a longtime friend. Music is part of my self-awareness. It’s important for telling me where I stand with what I do, for self-questioning and exploration.

Let The Echo Hear, 50" x 44", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Let The Echo Hear, 50" x 44", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

EJ: The way that you organize bands of color does resemble tone clusters or melodies. How do your abstract paintings connect to organic landscapes?

TPR: They connect in terms of that initial awe you feel when looking at vistas, when you feel the scale and placement. I am talking about how vast landscapes are filtered through me to make a geometric pattern.

EJ: Why do you call your abstractions “rhythmic velocities”?

TPR: I’m interested in how the placement or design of marks and lines on canvas capture a sense of speed. The colored lines determine whether the physical work reads fast or slow, and color carries the emotional component.

EJ: How do you plan your paintings?

TPR: I used to use graph paper to plan my paintings but now I work with special software on an iPad Pro. The preliminary drawings help me decide how the stripes are going to lay out, how wide they are, where to have emptier areas. In the drawing stage I can get excited about things like the optical effect of diagonal lines meeting, tweaking angles and the surprising spaces created behind junction points. The most important part of planning is scaling the design, deciding how big the work will be.

Panorama (RD), 58" x 48", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Panorama (RD), 58" x 48", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Comin' Back Down (On The Crest), 24" x 24", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Comin' Back Down (On The Crest), 24" x 24", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

EJ: Do your mix your colors in advance?

TPR: The “digital colors” are based on real hues from palettes that I have created. I started on the iPad with about fifty or sixty colors that are the basis for mixing all my colors digitally. I go through all this planning to simplify a complexity. I use social media platforms such as Instagram to show the early process.

EJ: Your paintings invite me to read them side to side, up and down–as if I were traveling through separate sounds or noticing multi-colored floorboards. Does your interest in pattern relate to codes or semiotics?

TPR: I recently did Cryptology Series, which gave code-like names to my pieces. The challenge of reading and engaging with a painting relates to a line or the lack of a line in space.

EJ: Did each letter correspond to a band of color? Did you imbed meaning in your linear stripes?

TPR: There wasn’t a direct correlation between the codes and parts of the piece. I wanted viewers to feel the mystery of figuring out a painting, and I wanted them to pay attention to subtleties.

Vista Of My Spirit, 44" x 50", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Vista Of My Spirit, 44" x 50", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

EJ: How did the triangle shapes that sit on the top layer of your paintings develop?

TPR: The triangles started out as designs yet through the years they have grown to reflect a human relationship to space, but I still see them as geometric design elements. I often use two triangles to suggest companionship. Rhythm is one side in dialogue with another, like in my music. If you think in terms of polyrhythmic music, a person can play different time signatures with different parts of his body. I studied drumming––actually, I started out on the xylophone and violin. Drumming, rhythm, the progression of pattern, fractions, and trigonometry are in my work. But for now, the one element that can be humanized in my linear designs is triangles.
 

EJ: How you stack up bands of color seems to cause some bands to act as shadows for those they are adjacent to. I am nearly fooled into feeling perspectival space and I like that feeling of being pulled up short and not fully trusting the illusion. Your piece Forever V crosses two invisible bands that are created from thin lines, these bands feel both absent and present. Overall, I perceive a shallow, naturally lit space that seems uniformly flattened and riddled with aberrations, like Levolor window blinds or the corrugated surface of shipping containers. As an aside, in another conversation, you mentioned that, as part of your teaching duties, you lecture on 19th Century art. How does your 21st Century abstraction inform your lectures on painting from one hundred years ago?

Whispering Wind, 78" x 58", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Whispering Wind, 78" x 58", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

TPR: Paul Cezanne is the one who relates to what I do. I love how his Bathers paintings incorporate line, shape, form, and dimension in one brushstroke.

EJ: Your triangles make me think of Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. The triangles mirror the effort and idealism of Romanticism. It seems you seek a “big picture” approach to abstraction and draw inspiration from subjects such as math or music that point to infinity.

TPR: I think everything is in there: events, people I know, stories, architecture, music. It all gets siphoned through me and into the work. I’m a big believer in coincidence, synchronicity, and numerology: it’s all about how things get funneled and filtered into linear, transcendent expression.

––Elizabeth Johnson

(elizabethjohnsonart.com)

edited by Matthew Crain 

(instagram.com/sarcastapics)

March 2022

Eternal, 58" x 48", Acrylic Paint On Canvas

Eternal, 58" x 48", Acrylic Paint On Canvas