Olive Hyde Gallery, Fremont, CA

by DeWitt Cheng
February 2018

Until recently, technology seemed to have enabled mankind to triumph over physical limitations, in effect abolishing time and space. Culture finally vanquished nature; we replaced reality — with the internet, video games and cell phones. While we who live in advanced countries can still appreciate human ingenuity, and the longer life spans and higher standards of living it has enabled, the fact remains that we are now and always have been a part of nature (which occasionally reminds us of that fact); and we are now clearly in a state of disharmony with the planet. Until the twentieth century, the natural world was seen as divine. In the mostly secular twenty-first century, we have (most of us) been liberated from the threat of eternal damnation, but not the spiritual vacuum fed by capitalist culture gone toxic. We are in need of some new form of sacralization of the world; we need to stop seeing nature as dead matter, only good if converted into money.

In her 1991 book, The Re-Enchantment of Art, Suzi Gablik writes: “I suspect we are at the end of something —a hypermasculinized modern culture whose social projects have become increasingly unecological and nonsustainable.” She quotes David Feinstein’s Personal Mythology: “we need new myths; we need them urgently and desperately.... Times are changing so fast that we cannot afford to stay set in our ways. We need to become exquisitely skilled engineers of change in our mythologies.” She argues that artists and art have a role, even a duty, in changing society. Gablik: “The world has about forty years, according to ... the Worldwatch Institute, an independent Washington-based, environmental research group, to achieve an environmentally sustainable economy or descend into a long economic and physical decline.” Twenty-seven years later, much of the world has heeded the message, even if America is stuck in its blind faith in the invisible, omniscient hand of The Market.

Equilibrium is a group show of three midcareer Bay Area painters—Donna Fenstermaker, Carol Ladewig and Kim Thoman—who explore a range of approaches and styles but share an interest in art’s traditional double nature: as a vehicle for both private aesthetic inquiry, and public enjoyment, edification and persuasion. Installed in separate side galleries, except for one omnibus triple-threat front gallery, the works by these established midcareer Bay Area artists are beautiful objects that argue implicitly for more nature-consciousness and a wider perspective beyond the quarterly dividend. After a generation of art that focused on media culture—is ‘selfie art’ a fair description?—it’s a message that is timely and urgent.


The grand cycles of cultures and civilizations were the theme of Romantics like J.M.W. Turner and Thomas Cole, who depicted the ruined glories of the classical world as allegories and warnings, but where those artists saw human frailty, moral failure, and “the strong force of fate,” Thoman sees instead, in nature, the irresistible biological imperative. Her powerful gestural drawing and her rejection of illusionism invoke and evoke the strong forces of nature. Thoman’s philosophical conviction that “duality exists in everything” informs and energizes her pastel and mixed-media digital drawings and sculptural works. The art critic Peter Frank wrote: “...every phenomenon is a balance of opposites, a dialectical resolution of contradictions that reveals hidden harmonies between supposedly antagonistic forces.”

Shown here are four recent mixed-media pieces from Thoman’s They series of 2017, numbers 1, 2, 5 and 6, which feature square painted panels that serve as the torsos of Bauhaus-style geometrized human figures fabricated in painted steel. (The anthropomorphism here continues the human icon concept from Thoman’s earlier Gray Matters series, patterned on Crucifixion triptychs.) The limbs are sharply pointed triangles; the heads are coils of wire, or spoon-shaped metal projections. The sculptural and the painted elements are similar, suggesting vitality that is barely contained, or overflowing its banks. Each of these four androgynous personnages (to employ the Surrealist term for such ambiguous humanoid beings) stands alone, wall-mounted; yet all are related, sharing the same visual DNA. Also shown are three mixed-media Shortstop Tangle digital drawings, preparatory sketches for the They figures, which show the artist trying out different configurations and palettes.

Our current political situation leads some of us in our exhaustion and dismay to see art as unworthy of our attention. While we need to stay informed and combative, we also need the aesthetic freedom and even healing that serious art can provide. Equilibrium to me signifies a balanced, long-term perspective: viability, in effect, in a destabilized environment. Art is an equilibrating as well as a liberating influence; it is also potentially a Brechtian hammer for shaping reality and a Picassean weapon with which to attack it.

KIM THOMAN: Natural Duality
- wall text for the exhibition, 2016
Peter Frank


In particle physics, “entanglements” are interrelations between two widely separated particles – particles whose great distance from one another, in fact, would make such interrelations impossible in the finite universe postulated by Albert Einstein. A dubious Einstein referred to such entanglements, long postulated by quantum physicists, as “spooky actions at a distance.” But they were definitively proven by experiments conducted as late as last year. The idea that such a metaphorical, even poetic, condition could exist in the physical world strongly appeals to Thoman, who has devised a series of works combining two and three-dimensional elements under this rubric.

The Entanglements literalize the sense of the “tangled” while embodying the “spooky action at a distance,” creating a kind of push-and-pull between forms and gestures. The looping lines that comprise both the painted elements and the sculpted seem the very essence of “entanglement.” But it is a very coherent kind of tangle, one in which the painted line segues effortlessly into the sculpted, almost as if a sculptor’s drawings were turning into sculpture by themselves. The painted part of each Entanglement roils and fulminates on canvas, confined by the limits of the picture plane, but then seems to break free and fly into the air – like a photon hurtling away from its twin while retaining all the same characteristics, if embodied differently. Thoman’s formulations even include a subtle mirroring of on-canvas compositions by the “twinned” sculptural factors.

The “Tangled Witness Unseen” series manifests the concept of entanglement somewhat differently. Here, the painted and drawn elements, evincing the physicality of Thoman’s hand, find their contrasting doppelgänger not in three-dimensional forms but in the hard, mechanical scumble of computer-generated lines. Thoman tucks these brittle black loops and meshes behind the quasi-floral, but also highly linear, images she paints and draws. She regards this contrast as giving form to another kind of metaphor, not physical or scientific so much as social and humanistic. As she writes, “Our brain has the ability to both remember and forget, creating a balancing act. I call this the tangled web of seeing.”


Although known as a painter and digital printmaker, Kim Thoman received her MFA degree in ceramic sculpture. Her combination of two and three-dimensional elements in works that comprise the Venus Series can be seen as a resolution of Thoman’s twinned impulses to the graphic and the volumetric. And her recent engagement of 3-D imaging can be regarded as a means of achieving a conceptual and visual continuity between the conditions of painting and drawing and those of sculpture. As Thoman observes, “The electronically created panels are a more intellectual process while I use an intuitive mark-making process on the oil painted panels.”

The Venus Series, which pairs painted vegetal forms with elaborately inscribed symmetrical solids, thus posits a coupling of physically complementary factors – in accordance with Thoman’s philosophy that “duality exists in everything.” In effect, every phenomenon is a balance of opposites, a dialectical resolution of contradictions that reveals hidden harmonies between supposedly antagonistic forces.

As the title of the series indicates, we can regard Thoman’s Venus works as gynocentric in expression, centered on the anima that defines the artist’s own gender. In her diptychs and triptychs, the three-dimensional element is depicted, and in the free-standing sculptures (the Emerging Venus series), the two-dimensional element is applied to the surface of the sculptural. The three-dimensional element is invariably a curvaceous form, one all human beings would recognize as female. Indeed, it can be considered a direct descendant of the Neolithic Venus of Willendorf, slimmed down, as it were, to fit modern concepts of health and beauty.  

But the Venus Series contains the masculine as well as the feminine. The series, attests Thoman, “was shaped by the landscape and sky of Taos, New Mexico,” where she spends part of each year. “The Taos Mountains offered a sense of security as the exuberant sky manifested surreal visions that left [me] ungrounded, but responsive to the huge mound of earth rising upwards.” In other words, in Taos Thoman viscerally grasped a synthesis between earth and sky – the original “female-male duality” – that undergirded her concept of the sculpted anima (= earth) and painted animus (= sky).



The “Gray Matters” series, dating back several years, presents Thoman’s concept of duality in the most literal terms, splitting the picture down the middle and setting the image in each left segment against that in each right segment. In each painting the images arranged left and right are notably similar to each other, inferring that the oppositions we see in the world are actually between like forces. We can extend that to the observation that our supposed “enemies,” the other people in the world against whom we think we compete, are in fact our equals and our allies.

The real enemy, you could say, is not the force that mirrors us, but the force that divides us – here embodied in the recessed panel at center. Thoman has designed this divisive element as a kind of crucifix, itself echoing the human body, especially if the painted angles atop each pair of panels can be read as embracing arms or wings. In this regard, then, even the element that separates us seeks to bring us back together, to enfold us all in a peaceful embrace. Thoman also regards the “arms” as proposing a “metaphor for the duality of human versus… divine.”

“Gray matter” refers not only to the predominance in this series of the “color” gray (which, as Thoman notes, is made by combining opposites on the color wheel), but, of course, to the human brain. That organ, source of our reasoning and our passions, our fear and our love, is itself formed as a duality. The images Thoman splays on either side of each gray recessed vertical do not closely resemble human brains. But they approximate our brain’s incessant churn of activity, the process of perception, analysis, and creativity that makes all of us, women and men alike, uniquely human.

by Michael Potts
Mendocino Arts Magazine, 2015-2016
click here for PDF

Peter Frank
Los Angeles 2012

Kim Thoman has long given graphic form – not simply pictorial body, but detailed, elaborately imagistic concretion – to philosophical and psychological concepts. Thoman is able to do this, especially with the persuasive force she so often musters, because she clearly maintains a visceral grasp of such concepts. They are not abstractions to her, but facts of human existence. And, in turn, the images Thoman creates, while technically “abstract,” do not feel distant or removed from experience; rather, they affect us like apparitions from vivid dreams, or like metamorphic variations on things we have seen – or think we have seen. To be sure, they are expressions of the artist’s inner sensations. But they take on and build upon exterior forms, shapes and even objects we know from ordinary life – or even from extraordinary life.

Having emerged several decades ago as a kind of “comic abstractionist,” manifesting personal, indeed intimate, accounts in a funky cartoon language, Thoman subsequently developed what she identified as a “more universal” formal vocabulary. But in doing so she did not retreat into the reduced, stylized universalities of traditional non-objective art. Rather, she maintained her commitment to a highly charged kind of imagery, one that provides viewers with ready associations in the real world, “natural elements,” as Thoman professes, that symbolize her own personal and intellectual growth. “Perhaps I am simply an autobiographical artist,” she once mused, “documenting the process of my evolution – from the center outward.” 

In her most recent series, including the Pod Series and Venus Series, Thoman troubles the notion of “center” upon which she had previously relied. To be sure, the floral forms and other nature-based images that have predominated in her work for years still appear, and even dominate, and they still tend to conform to round, orbital, symmetric shape. But now they are very frequently posited opposite equally intricate but natural-seeming forms who, for all their voluptuous curves, describe non-centric shafts.  The duality here is fairly apparent, although Thoman does not belabor it. She does stress the condition of duality itself, however. The evident male/female contrast embodies only one aspect of the dialectical relationships Thoman senses throughout human and natural energy. She contrasts the hard with the soft, the organic with the inorganic, the dark with the light, the smooth with the rough, the vulnerable with the impenetrable, the efflorescent with the withdrawn, the supple with the brittle, the simple with the elaborate, and so forth. Any one of Thoman’s recent works can yield any number of these contrasting states. Indeed, the complexity of the formal relationships set in motion (not simply presented) by Thoman’s elegant and forceful style invite viewer interpretation almost to the point of self-revelation. If Dr. Rorschach had devised a dualistic rather than singular format for his method, his forms could well have been the armatures on which Thoman builds her pictures.

As it is, Thoman’s pictures stir something primal in one. They posit dualisms, but they point at unities, as if prompting the eye to synthesize as quickly and thoroughly as possible the opposites before it. Is Thoman simply exploiting the human mind’s – or heart’s – desire for resolution? In fact, she is questioning that very desire, or at least the timidity it engenders. Don’t be afraid to grapple with conflicts, Thoman declares in her dualistic works; the resolution may in fact not lie in making peace between the opposed elements, but in making sense of their difference. They don’t have to merge, they don’t have to agree, they simply have to harmonize – and it’s up to your mind, your eye, your heart to find that harmony. 

In this regard, Thoman’s Pods and Venuses may not resolve, but they do balance. She employs a range of media to produce these lucid, emphatic pictures, everything from obdurate oils to delicate archival inks, “marrying” the still-new digital technology to the centuries-old technology of panel painting. That in itself determines a dialectical tussle of sorts, a meeting and arguing of modalities originating in markedly different civilizations. But the civilization that gave us painting is the direct ancestor of our own digital culture, and the genes show. Thoman knows this, and demonstrates how the seeming disparity between the two methods works ultimately to the advantage of both. Similarly, the seeming disparity between the charged image on one side of a typical Thoman composition and that on the other side slowly unwinds under continued scrutiny, until the two sides of the equation, once seemingly unequal and described in totally unrelated visual languages, now seem like mirror images of each other. 

If we can take away a moral and social lesson from Kim Thoman’s oeuvre, it is that conflict resolution lies within each of us. Thoman does not think of herself as wiser than the rest of us, only more fortunate by dint of her work with art to have discovered for herself the harmony of the universe. That harmony is not in the propitious alignment of forms and meanings, but in our discovery – or, shall we say, acceptance – of balance between haphazard pairings and contrapositions. Things don’t exist in opposition to other things, but only in balance with them. Finally, Thoman doesn’t resolve conflicts, but reveals their superficiality. At heart, everything is in union.

Ann Landi

Kim Thoman’s paintings are a marriage of apparent contradictions: spontaneity versus deliberation, smooth versus rough, serene versus unruly, even manmade versus high-tech. In her latest series, the savvy viewer will detect references to the venerable gestural vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism—especially the linear and lyrical idiom of an early master like Arshile Gorky—juxtaposed against a smoothly glowing shape that recalls both sophisticated ceramics and ancient fertility goddesses (and this is most likely the reason that Thoman refers to these figures as Venuses).

She has aligned these components as diptychs and more recently triptychs so that a rhythm is set up as the eye crosses the surface of the work. In the “Venus Series” of 2012, there’s an almost musical progression: moving rapidly and even hectically as in a kind of scherzo movement and then slowing (andante) to take in the Venus shape, and then speeding up again in the final passage. To inquire into the meaning is about as relevant as asking why a particular sonata sounds so pleasing: both depend on abstraction for their power.

Significantly, Thoman’s three-plus decades as an artist show a remarkable consistency. She started off studying ceramics at the University of California in Berkeley and Davis (at a time when clay scarcely commanded any respect in the art world) and gravitated to painting. She has experienced little of the traditional academic training, the gradual progression through life-drawing and painting classes, and has mostly found her own way through experimentation and natural talent. But the impulses have remained constant: “I love the organic component of the clay,” she says, “and what I was doing 35 years ago I’m still doing.”

“Organic” has in fact been a pivotal aspect of all Thoman’s work of the past few years. Strange plantlike shapes, vaguely resembling flowers or petals, are often the focal points of earlier series. Even the “Hearts and Pearls” have a fundamental grounding in the natural world since pearls are the outcome of an organic process of gestation inside an oyster. With the “Pod” series of 2009 the artist steps up the mystery, introducing the serenely glowing, smoothly polished shapes that have become a linchpin in her work.

Though much of her imagery appears spontaneous and always shows evidence of a hand at work, Thoman’s paintings are conceived and executed using some of the most high-tech means available. She makes initial sketches on a computer for the painted abstract panels of the bi- and tripartite compositions; these are often circular shapes, later articulated with black and white gesso, which will be worked into more ambitious and elaborate dreamscapes. That process of drawing allows her to start without the trauma of facing up to a blank canvas. The Venus shapes, too, are computer-generated; she can plug in visuals derived from the paintings and wrap them around the surface. Sometimes the imagery of the different components matches up, as in Angel of Venus #1 and Venus of Men #1, and sometimes not. What’s important, Thoman says, is that “each one of the pieces has to hold their own.”

Throughout her career, the artist has worked at reconciling the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional, not by literally slapping a sculpture on top of a canvas, as some might do, but by playing with the infinite variations available to the painter. Thus in a painting like Mother of Pearls #2, Thoman offers up an extremely sensuous and naturalistic web of pearls on one side; on the other are flat triangular shapes, a few of which look like they could have been lifted out of a Paul Klee. That tension continues in recent series, where the floating serene shape of the Venus is generally contrasted with the wilder dramas to one or both sides.  The polished goddesses clearly belong to another realm, and one can imagine them cast as beautiful sculptural objets d’art. The nonobjective gestural paintings ask to be seen as artifacts of a different impulse, a legacy of the wild and woolly generation of painters, like Pollock and de Kooning, who remain the founding fathers of American art. And yet the two compulsions seem to have forged a truce that works for both artist and viewer.

After looking at the diptychs and triptychs of the past couple of years, the series Thoman calls “Inner Scapes” appear almost as studies, although they are perfectly satisfying in and of themselves. It is one of the odd characteristics of her art that the parts could be separated out and rearranged to come up with all sorts of interesting variations (a wall of Venuses, for instance). But what is most striking about all the works of the past few years is the increasing subtlety of color, line, and shape. Thoman is a painter in full command of her powers, and the future should bring only rewarding surprises.

John Mendelsohn
March 2012

Our vision is binocular, with each eye seeing a slightly different scene, which in our brains is resolved into a singular image. We continually negotiate the world in a continual play of similarity and difference, learning what it means to perceive together both sharp distinctions and magnetic affinities.

Kim Thoman creates paintings with a kind of double vision, radically different images juxtaposed in a single work. The viewer is confronted with a conceptual challenge that has deep emotional resonances. We are drawn into a pictorial world where divergent categories are made to cohabit. The computer-generated and the hand worked, the mechanical and the biomorphic, and the photographic and the painterly occupy distinct zones, but we are left to solve the conundrum of their coexistence.

In the earlier Pod Series, one panel of a painting has a digitally realized image, an illusion of three-dimensional form. It varies between an elegant tripartite avatar, a twisted shell-like form, and a pointed lozenge with an oval portal. Each of these forms has a skin of paint partially or fully covering its surface. In contrast to the form, usually floating in darkness, is a panel painted with organic, abstract forms.

Representative of the Pod Series is the painting Parallel Universe: Butterfly. A central panel holds the image of a sculptural form, somehow both human and alien. On its surface is a tracery of curved lines and areas of deep red. That same red dominates the painted side panels, with petal-like form against a field of blue-green. The contrasting panels suggest that the form is a self-contained generator of the flowering that both surrounds it and is separate from it, recalling a cocoon and a butterfly.

In the Venus Series, the relationship between the form and the painted area becomes both more explicit and more mysterious. Now even more like an abstract female figure, the form’s shape and title suggest the paleolithic statuette, the Venus of Willendorf, which is thought to be a fertility figure. The painted panel is much larger now, and is an assemblage of forms, both chaotic and strong. 

Venus of Taos I is a pile-up of shapes that resemble rocks and pods set against an atmosphere that shifts from dark to sheer nothingness. The Venus, cloaked in traces of line and color, stands as a kind of potential for the rough and evocative world she faces. She stands apart yet connected to a landscape charged with emotion, like a serene and protective spirit.

DeWitt Cheng
East Bay Express
February 2008

Kim Thoman's drawings revisit the Romantic/Surrealist landscape.

Nature is generally given short shrift in contemporary art, with its fascination with media, but some artists still find inspiration in Reality 1.0 (through they do create their own upgrades). Kim Thoman's drawings now on view at Oakopolis Gallery derive from studies of seedpods. The spindle-shaped structures with their eyelike and mouthlike apertures feed her imagination and fuel her explorations. Her pod portraits grow into symbolic narratives that can be considered in the romantic tradition of Samuel Palmer, Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, and others, and the Surrealist tradition of Max Ernst and Francis Bacon (who despised such labels, of course). Michael Crichton warned that Nature finds a way; certain species of art just keep coming back.

In Heart Still Life, a sectioned heart-shaped pod is the mysterious focus. Placed in an ambiguous inside/outside setting atop an inclined circular platform, and flanked by animated leaves that are partly sinister characters and partly reflections of our own anxiety, it's an image of foreboding. Pod Still Life 1 is less unsettling. The dramatically lighted and rendered pod is set against an opaque black background, which is then framed by animated fronds and scraps of wood as if in homage; it's a Surrealist portrait in the collage style of Max Ernst. Pod 4, Forest 1 is a diptych with the left side black, the right off-white; each contains half of a continuous thicket of branches, darkened at left, illuminated at right. On the left, the pod has grown a dark sheath or hood and its opening is distended into a huge maw ringed by a spiral of teeth. (It's actually a scanned shot of a necklace tipped into the correct "facial" perspective.) The pod on the right remains held in the branches come daylight, but now half-effaced, with only its pearly Cheshire cat smile remaining. Mother of Pearls 3 is decidedly less fraught. Its two panels are connected by a roughly drawn red-black branch or road supporting two metal spheres. The left sphere sits amid a galaxy of pearl strands suggestive of wheeling plants in stop-motion photographs; it's resplendent and heavenly. The right sphere rests amid the petals of a red plant that's anthropomorphic, active, and searching.

ENERGY SHIFTS: The Blacksburg Motion Series of Kim Thoman
Meredith Tromble
April 16, 2003

Forcing the lock on Kim Thoman's images won't get you much. A viewer who shoulders roughly into her pictures, looking for solid representations and symbols, will find a buzzing horde of shape-shifting marks. A wiry line emerges out of nowhere, coils a few times, then skitters off at an angle. An oval form bounces through several incarnations, appearing first as a tone, then a drawing, then an erasure. A spiral movement manifests in drapery, then in ribbon, before spinning itself into a line. Like sprites escaping Pandora's box, Thoman's images erupt and dissipate, fleeing any pursuer who tries to pin them down.

There was a physical model for many of these paintings, a dying iris seen most clearly in Motion Series #17. For an organism on the brink of non-existence, it is charged with surprising energy. The petals roll as the iris spirit shrugs off its coat of matter. It is this transformation, not the form, that drew Thoman. She had plucked the iris on one of the daily walks she took while in residence at Blacksburg, and pinned it on her studio wall. 

As she painted each day, the curling shapes of the shriveling plant mixed with her established vocabulary of forms: voids, vortices, and an edge-and-oval passage that backstops many of the compositions, reading alternately as abstract form and horizon-with-trees. 

These signature elements weave through unstable spaces. If Thoman sets up an illusion of distance, she immediately contradicts it. This dynamic can be seen in Motion Series #15: Blacksburg Nightmare where a central tornado seems to touch down on the lower edge of the picture plane, to the fore of a pictured plain clearly indicated with a horizon line. But to the left of the tornado, the picture space slips along a fault line running from the top to the bottom of the paper. Some forms stop at the fault, some slide into it, some reverse value, some merely shift a bit. One skinny oval void, anchored at the left edge, makes it across unscathed. 

As one continues to look into Motion Series #15: Blacksburg Nightmare, the underfed oval, so active and thrusting when it enters from the left, seems to stretch, stabilize, and put down roots to reappear as a poplar tree on the right. It is just this change of state, from energy to matter and matter to energy, that is Thoman's constant concern. She manages it in a slightly different way in her digital prints, which often incorporate the photographic image of a string of pearls. The pearls prove to be just as versatile as her drawn shapes, reading as spirals, circles, or lines depending on the context she creates for them. 

Although there are occasional flashes of bright color in her paintings, Thoman's characteristic palette is dark, emphasizing value over color. (As revealed in the work Caravaggio's Angel's Wing, the Renaissance master of high-contrast drama is one of her inspirations.) In her work, there is always something lurking in the shadows, even as she proffers a moment of clarity. Thoman's painting, like life, constantly unfolds yet never fully reveals its mysteries.


“Emerging Venus”: Kim Thoman’s 3D Printed Sculptures Designed to Embody Dualities
by Michelle Matisons
January 23, 2015

As a fellow native Nebraskan, I feel a kindred connection to artist Kim Thoman’s work. As cliché as it sounds, there is something about the expansive skies and roads that go on forever. Her connection with elemental nature isn’t exclusively Midwestern, but there’s just so much open space where we grew up — begging contemplation. This is a perfect place for an artist (or writer!) to blossom unencumbered by the common urban distractions. Lately, Thoman’s work has been blossoming in the direction of a 3D printed sculpture series she calls “Emerging Venus.” This series takes her from the Nebraska Plains to the New Mexico mountains. As she explains on her website:

“The Venus Series was shaped by the landscape and sky of Taos, New Mexico. The Taos Mountain offered a sense of security as the exuberant sky manifested surreal visions that left the painter ungrounded, but responsive to the huge mound of earth rising upwards.”

yangelvenus3Thoman’s art seamlessly incorporates 3D printing in a manner that connects the dualities of the natural and technological worlds. In fact. duality is a central theme in all of her work. Of her earlier 3D modeled work, Thoman explains to

“In the Venus Series, I engage the idea of duality by creating diptychs that juxtapose panels that are digitally created with other panels that are traditional oil paintings. The electronically created panels are a more intellectual process while I use an intuitive mark-making process on the oil painted panels. It is an exciting investigation into new ways to approach the idea of dualities in all things.”

Thoman describes her evolution from a painter to a mixed media 3D sculptor/painter as a natural one. Her experience Emerging Venus 4with 3D modelling her earlier Venus shapes introduced her to the broader world of 3D printing. This gave rise to her most recent Emerging Venus series-in-progress of 3D printed sculptures featured here.

Thoman told about her attraction to 3D color printing:

“I learned more and more about 3D printing and discovered the Z printer. As a painter, none of the other 3D printers are of particular interest…as the full spectrum of color is paramount for me. Since I was already wrapping the Venus shape with my paintings for the diptychs and triptychs, it seemed an obvious evolution to 3D print the shape. I am in the process of making new Venus shapes, wrapping with new paintings and designing new welded steel structures to hold her.”

Thoman is quick to widen her circle of support when describing her artistic production process. The Venus was designed in Cinema 4D, and Thoman works with an expert technician and artist, Andrew Juris, who uses 3D software for constructing models and prepping them for 3D printing in full color. Once the models are ready to go to print, Canada’s OffLoad Studios steps in to handle the nitty gritty of Thoman’s 3D printing jobs. A boutique studio located in the Fraser Valley (50 miles from Vancouver), BC, Canada, OffLoad’s clients are professional artists and from the entertainment industry. The studio works with three 3D printers: two are full color, powder-based printers.

Bill Henderson of OffLoad Studios described the Emerging Venus production process from his studio’s angle as the entity doing the actual 3D printing:

“Our work with Kim is typical of the kind of project we take on. Kim and her team in California produce the visual and physical appearance of the tactual. We then have to do the engineering to be able to produce it. In the case of the Emerging Venus, the piece has to be hollow for weight and cost control, plus it hangs from a wire rope. And the fragile shell cannot break under the weight of the hanging piece. There is a lot hidden inside the art.”

When asked hOLS-LOGO-WEB-altow many pieces the studio has printed for Thoman, he couldn’t give an exact number but could state that there have been a “variety of different artist explorations, size, and texture varieties.”

Henderson also emphasized how important the right printing equipment is to achieve the color effect Thoman so desires in her work:

“We start with a stock ZCorp z510 Spectrum 3D printer, then make a few modifications so we can run the kind of files we use to ensure the highest quality. The ZCorp machines (now 3D Systems) are the only machines that 3D print in full color… produc[ing] shape and surface color (24 million colors in fact) at the same time. Working with an artist like Kim, who comes from the perspective of a painter, we collaborate on several color test runs of selected areas of the sculpture, before committing to final print. This gives the artist physical feedback on final color output. As technology has a wonderful habit of injecting its own opinion, texture colors can be modified to ensure as accurate color reproduction as possible.”

All of this is of great importance as you can see the fine design and craftsmanship that Thoman delivers in each one of her Emerging Venus sculptures. In fact, regarding color, Thoman tells the story of receiving her first print in the mail from OffLoad Studios. Henderson likes to deliver Venus wrapped up like a baby, and when Thoman unwrapped her first printed Venus she was pleasantly surprised:

“My first 3D printed object was this Venus shape and as it can happen, I had beginner’s luck. On screen, her coloring was a lovely mustard yellow. It was like Christmas when the package with her in it arrived. But, on opening, I was stunned as her coloring was anything but yellow. Once over my surprise, I was delighted to Emerging Venus 6see a drop dead gorgeous pea green colored Venus. Once again, as a painter, color says it all to me. However, while I was thrilled, I felt the lack of control unsettling. Since then, Bill and I do lots of printing color test tiles, and most often at full scale because all painters know that the same colors at different scales are different.”

So far, Thoman has eight unique pieces that constitute her Emerging Venus 3D printed sculpture series. The printed Venus pieces stand at 19 inches tall, and because of the printer’s build box constraints, they were printed in two parts and then glued together. The Venuses are hung on welded steel structures that are very similar to each other with minor variations.  In my view, the pieces blend the duality of natural and technological registers in captivating visual ways. The welded steel displays complement the curves of the Venus pieces, which are themselves emblazoned with Thoman’s naturalistic imagery that captures her roots in the landscapes of both her childhood and more recent years.

Since Thoman’s work has focused on the Venus for some years now, and Venus is a Paleolithic symbol of female fertility popularized by the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s, I asked Thoman how she views women’s current role in the world of sculpture and 3D printing. She thoughtfully answered that there’s still progress to be made:

 “In my experience, I have to say definitely more men are interested in 3D printing than women. However, the fashion industry seems to be doing incredible things with 3D printing and there are several women who are making the headlines in that industry. The sculpture world has always been dominated by men, but punctuated by amazing females! Yet, it wasn’t that long ago (and I know things haven’t changed all that much) when sculpture departments at the art schools were filled with lots of testosterone and women had to work hard to be respected. It can be similar, actually, in a computer lab.”

While more men have dominated the sculpture and 3D printing scenes, Thoman is not deterred. She values her 3D printing design work for engaging the linear side of her brain: “Computer work is a much more linear or intellectual way of working than the intuitive way I use to make my paintings. And, now, I’m back to my interest in duality. I needEmerging Venus 1 - Diagonal View both sides of my brain engaged at working in these two different ways and this provides me with that opportunity.” And, to prove this, she has many more Emerging Venus designs in the works.

Thoman will be showing her work in February at a digital sculpture conference and exhibition at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. She also has three upcoming solo exhibitions this autumn that will include both her paintings and sculptures: two are in the Midwest and one is in California. Thoman believes that the public needs to see more 3D printed art to understand the technology, and she has done her share here by curating  a 3D art exhibition at a local college art gallery two years ago. But Thoman believes that the goal is to ultimately make invisible the mark of the 3D printing tool in artwork:

“I believe, actually, that as the artists use 3D printing more and more to make their work that the process itself will begin to disappear from view, in the same way that when you look at a beautiful Rodin, the first thing you think is NOT how did he make this. When the mark of the tool is no longer ‘visible,’ that’s when we know the technology has really arrived in the art world.”

3D printed sculpture (and Venus) devotees should keep their eye on Thoman: an increasingly “visible” 3D print artist and 3D printed art curator, her work is both down to earth and cutting edge in the same instance. If you’d like to help her realize her dream of a larger Venus, she is looking for financial backers for her largest project to date, which will be a sculpture that’s about 5-6 ft tall with a 3D printed 36” Venus to be shown in her upcoming solo exhibition at Soka University Art Gallery. The cost to print and build will be about $11,000. If anyone is interested they can contact Thoman through her email to be part of this project:

Interview by Nora Toure
Women in 3D Printing
July 2018

Kim Thoman has been painting and exhibiting in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally for more than 35 years. She was a recipient of a grant at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of Taos, New Mexico, and other awards include the Vermont Studio Center Residency Grant and Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Change Grant.

Selected solo exhibitions include: The Hardin Cultural Center for the Arts, Gadsden, AL, Godard Center for the Arts, Ardmore, OK, The Peninsula Museum of Art, Burlingame, CA, The Mendocino Art Center, CA, The Anderson Center for the Arts, IN, Saint Mary’s University Gallery of Minnesota, MN, Monterey Peninsula College Art Gallery, CA, Stanford Art Spaces, CA, Bank of America World Headquarters Plaza Gallery, SF, CA, San Francisco MOMA Artists Gallery, CA, Virginia Tech University Perspective Gallery, VA, JFK University Art Gallery, CA,  Oakopolis Gallery in Oakland, CA.

Kim, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?

I’ve been a Bay Area artist and college art instructor for over 30 years. I began working with clay as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis before I transferred to UC Berkeley and graduated with a BA in Art. Later I received an MA in Ceramic Sculpture at San Francisco State University. So, I had a firm background and interest in sculpture before I started painting for the next 30 years. About 7 years ago, I started making diptychs (and triptychs) that had one panel that was a digital print.

To create these diptychs I juxtaposed a digital print next to my traditional oil painted panels. The digital prints show a computer designed shape that I call Venuses. Then, to relate the Venus shape with the traditionally painted panels, I photographed and scanned a painting and digitally wrapped these Venus shapes. At some point, I began to hear about 3D printing. It seemed that I already had the data for printing these Venus shapes in 2D and it wouldn’t be too difficult to print them in 3D. The complication, of course, was that I had to make the shape look good from all sides instead of just the front. This was exciting to me.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

When I realized that I basically had the digital data to print my Venus shapes in 3D, I started to educate myself about 3D printers and became initially dismayed by the restriction of the colors of the final print. As a painter and with my Venus shapes digitally wrapped with my paintings, the color was/is important. I finally discovered a 3D printer made by Zcorp that would allow for the printing of millions of colors. Then, my problem was to find a company that had this printer and was willing to work with an artist’s input and print no more than 5 final prints, as opposed to printing quantities of 10,000. I live in California but heard about a small company in Canada who liked working with artists. This was a huge benefit to me and I learned a lot. Unfortunately, he was unable to sustain his business and after doing multiple color test pieces with me, he regretfully closed his business and went back to teaching. At this point, I understood that I needed to work with a company that had these Zcorp printers but also had a sustainable business model that didn’t rely on fine artists. That took more research, but finally, I found LGM in Colorado, who is an architectural model making company. They have the knowledge of color and were excited to work with an artist. I continue to print with them, today.   

Do you integrate other technologies as well?

I hang 3D printed shapes (Venus) from structures made of welded steel.

Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?

When I began to make sculptures that used 3D printed objects, I became interested in finding others who were using the technology to make fine art. I was invited to curate an exhibition of fine art made using 3D printing for the college art gallery. Of course, I found artists worldwide using the technology, but I focused on artists in the Bay Area. This show was hugely exciting for the students and I even found an artist who could talk about his dreams of making sculpture from 3D printed human cells.

After this exhibition came down, I created a slideshow proposal of artists, nationwide, using the technology in the hopes of finding a venue with a budget or an angel to support this much wider exhibition. So far I’ve not found the support needed, but I’ve not given up on the project.   

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman artist in 3D Printing?

Without a doubt, I’ve felt the challenge of being a woman artist  – and more recently challenges of being an older women artist – And, finding support for art that uses 3D printing is a further challenge. Most all art venue directors know only what they see online about 3D printing. It takes a director who will learn about the technology and, most importantly, research the various printers.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?

I have an exhibition that includes both my 3D printed sculptures and the diptychs and triptychs that preceded these sculptures (along with other works) traveling to The Goddard in Ardmore, Oklahoma in September 2018 and to another art center in Gadsden, Alabama, in 2019. I hope to continue traveling this exhibition and am actively looking for venues. I have a pdf of the images in the show that I email to interested directors/curators.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

It’s natural for artists to use computers to create models, alter designs including scale, color, texture, pattern, value, etc. to make decisions for a final piece. 3D print computers offer the same for sculptures. But, more exciting to me are the possibilities of using 3d printing for the final project. There remain issues with size and color.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

I continue waiting for 3D printers that print with millions of colors at an extremely high resolution with a large print box.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

There are often more women in art departments than men. Offering scholarships or opportunities for women artists to work with companies that are 3D printing might be useful. Many artists running art departments stick with their own medium and don’t branch out. For the students to learn new technologies, outside support is needed.