Like an aerial view of a city or a Gee’s Bend quilt, the new paintings of North Carolina artist Barbara Campbell Thomas buzz with a loose predictability that renders them charmingly familiar, yet capricious up close. As you scan their surfaces, these awkward accumulations of small proliferating shapes coalesce into dense hubs of activity, punctuated with harmonious, commercial color and small bits of collaged pattern. In her show “World Without End,” at Schulman Project in Baltimore, Maryland [through May 11], Thomas’s new paintings function as visual puzzles in which interlocking color-shapes build structure piece by piece, creating pleasurable optic sensations full of improvisational relationships. Explaining abstract paintings can be a challenge, and the gallery statement makes a valiant but unsatisfactory attempt to equate Thomas’s busy conglomerations with modern media oversaturation and loss of privacy. Although her compositions throb with activity and movement, there’s no loss of control or strife present. Rather, like a Gustav Klimt pattern that’s been softened, these paintings are the exuberant product of collection, accretion, and playful assembly by an individual keen on the formal nuances of color and shape.
All of Thomas’s compositions in this show are fit into small to medium-sized rectangles, but they contain a sense of vastness being contained, as if they would like to break out of their frames and continue down the wall. Whether thinned into a transparent wash, smeared as a rutted impasto, or collaged from cut remnants of former paintings, Thomas assembles a rich surface of odd affiliations primed for infinite accumulations beyond the arbitrary boundaries set for them.