Childs Gallery: Re-opening with an exciting show
New space to host John Thompson: An Artist Collects
The Childs Gallery is back. The Newbury Street art gallery, which has anchored the block between Dartmouth and Exeter streets since 1937, is currently open for its first post-Covid lockdown show and moving directly across the street from 169 Newbury St. to its new location at 168. The show will be open to the public until May 9.
The new two-floor gallery is debuting a new show called John Thompson: An Artist Collects, hosted by Thompson, a noted artist, instructor, and collector. This exhibition will give viewers access to his private collection, pieces from which will be on sale. More than 17 artists will be represented with 51 works (not all art pieces will be on display at once) and all will be available for purchase.
“One of the things that’s always been very important about us being on Newbury Street is – especially pre-Covid – that all the people coming into town are from all different places. We meet people from all over the country and world who come to shop,” said Richard Baiano, president and co-owner of the Childs Gallery. “It’s very much about being on the street and being open and accessible to the public.” (Baiano is overseeing the transition to the new space, which should be complete by the end of April, preserving a staple of the arts community and pillars of Newbury Street.)
As an artist and exhibitor, Thompson holds an admirable space in the region’s art world that he continues through his work teaching and mentoring at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The upcoming exhibition size is looking to be quite promising but Thompson says that “my biggest regret is [the gallery] wasn’t as big as an airplane hangar so I could include everybody.” Thompson’s personal collection contains well over a thousand works from friends, work acquaintances, and even from his own students over the years.
Art didn’t always have a place in Thompson’s life. Born in 1950, his love of painting and print-making didn’t start until he entered early adulthood. “I grew up without any art around. I grew up with calendar pictures for artwork. I didn’t know museums existed,” Thompson said. “I didn’t understand what a painting was till I was maybe out of high school. I don’t remember, it’s been too long and finding you can actually experience and live with art and have these incredible things around you is one of life’s greatest pleasures.” Thompson received his undergraduate degree from Syracuse and master’s degrees from University of Wisconsin, Babson College, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
On the subject of his primary muse, Thompson said: “In my mind it’s very much reflective of the natural world. There are no two trees that are alike. What’s really beautiful about finding the things that are so different from one another, if you have a house with two maple wood trees in front, they’re always quite different trees. You know they’re related, but they’re always different. I love that about nature.”
One of the more intriguing aspects to Thompson’s headspace as a creative is that he seems to enjoy letting his art find its own will rather than adhering to strictly his own. “What I discovered was that although I appreciate all the traditional techniques, I was still very interested in the accidents,” he said.
Thompson gave great detail to the process that produced some of the strongest standouts amongst his work using Chinese silk screens for painting: “The silk screen truly came about by not doing things correctly. Moving things too quickly and finding new ways of doing it- I make the images out of them; the leaves, the grass, the ponds, whatever it happens to be. Then I move it around the paper and use them like, if you will, giant drawing tools. It is a very physical process.”
The portrait of artistic process Thompson details shows a man free of any form of doubt or insecurity in what he will produce. He presses ahead and works with the things he cannot control in his work rather than letting himself be slowed or frustrated by things not being exactly precise.
In terms of the scope of his prints and paintings, Thompson takes a narrower focus to the detail of the natural than a wide view of natural phenomena, “I consider myself pretty heavily to be a landscape artist for the most part. But with most landscape painters, George Inness for instance, they’re always painting these great vistas and epic scenes,” said Thompson. “I’m totally intimidated. I take a look at the very intimate moments, the kind you take as you walk around a local pond. I’m much more interested when I see it near my feet or reflecting off that water or branches overhead than I do with the wider epic landscape.” This hyper-focus on detail only speaks to the beauty that Thompson is able to conjure in his art.
With this show, the Childs art gallery is looking forward to the future showcases for the Boston arts community. Baiano described upcoming shows at the Childs Gallery such as the planned show Art in Quarantine. “It’s going to be all art that artists created during the pandemic,” said Baiano. “It can be related to the Black Lives Matter movement, the pandemic, climate change, or me too, pretty much anything.” When asked if the gallery embraced politics, Baiano responded resolutely, “meaningful art can’t ignore it. We’re the fourth set of proprietors so the gallery always takes on the character of the people running it and that happens to be my interest, especially now. There’s definitely a need for art to be relevant.”
When Thompson was asked if he would be participating in the Art in Quarantine show, he responded with: “I probably will. Some of my works have changed quite a bit. There’s a sparseness about them, sort of a starkness that hasn’t been there for a long time,” said Thompson. “It’s likely a reflection of the way we’ve been isolated from one another recently. It was a bleak period. Some of my work turned darker and bleaker. Hard to see cause it’s all in my mind and the viewer may not anticipate that, but I felt it.”
Even with the more somber elements bleeding into the ongoing art creation, John Thompson echoed a sense of optimism for the direction of the Boston art community, “Having these things, ideas and history; I can share it with people. Tell you this, I’m sitting in my studio right now and I’m looking at the Caldera, Walker, Picasso, Cadmus, Bob Freeman, Jack Dunbar, Kurosawa, Walton Ford. …It’s just wonderful to know that you can share and experience this stuff and live with it.”