Artists go back in time to see how far they've come

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The newest show by the Mixed Media Painting School of Steamboat Springs was a journey of self-discovery for the artists. The assignment was simple on the surface, but it turned out to be, in parts, painful and cathartic. Each of the 20 artists was instructed to take a piece from the past and change it, "metamorphose" it, into a completely different piece.

Each artist took a different approach. Keri Searls took a large painting and cut it into pieces, eliminating and painting over parts of the past. Susan Frederick cut a painting into thin strips and reconstructed it into a woven, mosaic piece.

Many of the pieces the artists chose to change were years old. Susan Thompson found two oil paintings on a shelf, among work that was either "finished or too ugly to look at," she said. The two pieces, "Trickle Lake" and "Glacial Lake," not only were done in a medium she hadn't touched in years -- oil painting -- but they also were done in a style she had long abandoned. Both images were abstracted landscapes she completed in the mid-1990s, but never really liked.

It was strange to look at them again after all those years.

Thompson is 41 now -- a different person than she was in her early 30s. The paintings had been on the shelf for almost 10 years. Since then, Thompson discovered encaustics -- pigmented wax that she layers onto wood panels with pastel knives. With encaustics, Thompson has created her signature style, minimal with imagery and texturally rich.

"I like encaustic because it's more physical than painting," she said.

Thompson's works are the kind of paintings to view with eyes closed. They beg to be touched and followed like a page of Braille, which is why it was strange for her to look at the comparatively flat oil-on-canvas surface.

The lakes Thompson painted all those years ago show hints of her current style -- sand and a few drops of beeswax mixed into the paint.

"That was back before I really knew how to deal with wax," she said. "I was playing with it, dripping it on the canvas, but I didn't know how to keep it in place."

"I'd never been comfortable with oils," Thompson said. "But (going back) was the first time I felt comfortable. I just jumped back into it. There was so much I didn't like about it."

She simplified both paintings.

"For me, so much of my life now is about trying to simplify," she said. "This got me thinking about other panels that I could go back to."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210 or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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