Lionel and Patricia Thomas’ famed works on display in the SUB

This month, the AMS Art Gallery is featuring a few works of visual art by architect and painter Lionel Thomas and designer and painter Patricia Thomas.

The exhibition was put together with the help of two research curators from the Collective for Advanced and Unified Studies in the Visual Arts (CAUSA), David Bellman and Meirion Evans.

“[Lionel and Patricia] helped create a new environment,” said Bellman. And in fact, their impact is not limited to the historical Vancouver cityscape.

L. Thomas was a professor of architecture from 1950 to 1959 and moved on to the department of fine arts as an associate professor until his retirement in 1981. Lionel and his wife, Patricia worked together murals in collaboration with architects throughout the city during their careers.

Featured in the exhibition at the AMS Art Gallery are photographs of some of these works including the mural on the now demolished former central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. However, you can get a fuller sense of the couple’s mural work by checking out the south wall of Brock Hall Annex and the freshly restored Pacific Rim mural that will be featured in the new SUB.

The show itself is minimalistic, showcasing almost entirely abstract works created by L. Thomas and three works by P. Thomas. P. Thomas’ work lays mostly in architecture and public space and, according to Bellman, she was one of the first colour consultants in North America. This is reflected in the pieces of hers presented in the show.

Gallery volunteer Jasper Wrinch noted that “Patricia Thomas’ [work] is more about design than art,” observing her colour block work “Self Portrait” (numbered one on the handout which you can pick up at the front desk).

In the summer of 1949 Lionel studied with Mark Rothko in San Francisco. The Rothko influence is evident in the experimental abstraction Lionel executes in the piece “Untitled.” His colour play in “Plankton” and “Holecium and Lurking Fish” are reflective of the kind of colour Rothko presents in his work.

The most interesting pieces in the gallery might be the cloisonne and copper panel “Centaur and the Wolf” and “Aquarius (The Water Bearer)” because they combine what the research curators note as L. Thomas’ passion for astronomy, as well as his inclination towards abstraction with the ancient technique of cloisonne. The latter piece belongs to the AMS collection. Both are incredible works of craftsmanship and invoke in the viewer the sense of the possibility of a more mystical modernity, one in which we are still intimately aware of the constellations above us and our place in the universe.

This exhibition is an important first taste of the works of the Thomases' and comes at a crucial time where progress and transition is leaving the history of art in Vancouver and on the UBC campus in the dust.

“The mural [“Pacific Rim”] being moved is evidence of a great, we hope, resurgence of interest in a historical period of great importance,” said Bellman.