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The Artfinder Blog

Thomas Donaldson on his own form of abstraction

British-born artist Thomas Donaldson spoke to us from his home in Thailand about the impact his identity as an expatriate has on his work. Following his move, Thomas began painting figuratively and developed the style that Artfinder art lovers can't get enough of!

Utilising techniques such as smudging paint across the canvas, Thomas has created his own abstract style which blurs the lines of his images. In doing so, Thomas' pieces become intriguing responses to the phenomenon of photoshopped images across contemporary media.

Can you describe the influence that artists Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele have over your most recent figure series?

They were the two artists who grabbed my attention when I was younger and have been an influence ever since. They both have very distinctive styles so I am very conscious of not just doing derivative copies. Normally I would overpaint if too similar and leave just a trace of the influence, which in the recent work is more visible. My figures have a slightly elongated Schiele like feel and Bacon's wonderful red and pink flesh tones. My work doesn’t have the ‘angst’ of Schiele or the ‘theatrical’ excess of Bacon. I’m more interested in depicting my figures in a more subdued and reflective mood.

'7-1-17 crouching figure' by Thomas Donaldson, $154/£120/€135

Do you have a favourite piece in the series so far? Why?

It always seems to be the work I haven’t painted yet, or the ones in progress in my studio. Once a work is resolved I’m always more interested in the next one. Sometimes one can get too critical of the work, too close, seeing areas you are not happy with but that are perfectly fine.

If I had to choose it would be ‘2-15-17 three figures (Sara)’. A larger scale multiple figure study painted quickly without any overworking. Balanced between representational elements and loser application of paint, it has just enough and has informed the paintings I’m working on now.

You mention your drawings ‘intend to suggest, rather than depict’. Can you elaborate further on this?

I don’t want to draw a formal observation of the human form, nor do I want to do a purely expressive depiction; I’m more interested in something in between. The work needs to have recognisable features, but not accurate. Then I allow areas of the body to be wiped out or painted over to only suggest the form. I draw on certain elements of Gestalt theory. The principle of Reification which states that we don’t need to present the complete form in order to see it. The viewer will complete the missing parts.

'5-22-17 four figures' by Thomas Donaldson, $2,312/£1,800/€2,033

As a British artist working in Thailand, how has the change of scenery influenced your work?

I’ve always preferred working away from the UK and I feel I’ve always made more interesting works while living abroad. Something about being a foreigner or outsider has always appealed to me. Working in Thailand has changed the way I work in that I began working purely figuratively here. I work best when I’m content with my surroundings. I’m not an artist who thrives on tension and turmoil. I need a calm and reflective environment to make work and have always felt comfortable in Thailand.

Thomas in his studio

You also teach studio and workshop classes at Asian University, Chonburi. Has teaching had any impact on your artistic growth?

Since completing my master’s degree I’ve always taught either part-time back in the UK or full-time here in Thailand. Teaching keeps you on your toes and I’m sure I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. I’ve also taught classes that were not necessarily in my area and have always enjoyed the experience. In turn it gives me a deeper understanding of other areas of art and design which can only enrich my art practice.

'9-20-16 kneeling figure' by Thomas Donaldson, $334/£260/€293

Your portfolio of exhibitions is quite impressive. Compared to exhibiting at brick and mortar galleries, how do you find your experience with Artfinder?

I’ve sold a lot more work through Artfinder than I ever have through traditional gallery exhibitions. I guess the irony is that I don’t exhibit so much in traditional galleries now but sell a lot more work. The whole art market landscape has changed with the Internet and social media, so artists don’t need traditional galleries to get their works seen and earn a living. I’m a British artist based in Asia and sell my works globally. It would not be possible to get that diversity of collectors in a traditional gallery.

Any exciting plans for the future?

I will be showing some work in ‘Flux Exhibition' at Chelsea College of Art, London this coming July. Other than that, no real plans, I find things happen when the time is right. I’m taking a sabbatical from teaching now, so I have more studio time to develop more larger scale works.

'5-25-15 study' by Thomas Donaldson, $899/£700/€790

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