Studio Visit: Marie Thibeault, Metamorphic Potential

Marie Thibeault; Photo credit Gary Brewer
Marie Thibeault; Photo credit Gary Brewer

Marie Thibeault: Metamorphic Potential

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world….
~W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

By Gary Brewer

A structure is a form of organization. It carries meaning that radiates through social, political and personal space. It is a system that holds things together until the forces of entropy destabilize the structure and, in its collapse, it becomes something new. This ‘becoming something new’ is the metaphoric fabric holding Marie Thibeault’s paintings in balance. It is a need to represent the ‘place’ in the world that she inhabits and transform it into richly layered paintings, where the plastic forces of space are in tension. Linear delineations of buildings, shipping containers, radar dishes, and cities are wedded to a painterly process that takes this raw information and re-purposes it into beautifully realized works of poetic force and imagination. It is the metaphoric reinterpretation of entropy wielding it’s irreversible force on a system and, in its collapse, that something new is born.

Her paintings address contemporary issues about our impact on the environment, of our unsustainable systems in whose wake “anarchy is loosed upon the world”, and of the aftermath of calamities, both natural and human. But these are not dystopian paintings. They are the metaphoric transformation of these destabilizing forces into a new order. In her work, Thibeault uses her imagination and the intrinsic power of painting to shape and affect the way in which we see and interpret the world. These paintings are in part about the infinite capacity of our selves and the world, to shed its skin and transform itself; to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and to create a new order.


We are carriers of information: the sense impressions accumulated over a lifetime as well as the memories that are genetic and the inheritance from our families and our ethnic origins. Memory is a complex pattern of interlocking structures. Fear, trauma, love, hope, and desire, these emotions and sense impressions co-mingle with the ineffable forces of biology and spirit – to become our ‘self’. This strange emergence of consciousness through which we filter the perceivable world; it is the quicksilver, shape-shifting, malleability of consciousness that is at the heart of ‘optimism’; the ability to continually rebuild and renew grows out of this metamorphic potential.

Thibeault is an ambitious painter. Her work wrestles with the realities on the ground but seeks to transform them into poetic vehicles that speak to the ever-becoming principle of existence, of change and renewal. She lives in San Pedro and teaches at Cal State University Long Beach. Her everyday routine is to drive over Terminal Island, crossing the Vincent Thomas and Gerald Desmond Bridges, looking down upon the vast ‘city’ of shipping containers in the port of Long Beach. Container ships, cranes, trucks and other vehicles are a constant part of her ‘place’ in the world. The wondrous machines that make the global economy and trade possible, but are also enablers of unrestrained consumer addictions, strewing our environment and world with unnecessary waste. Her paintings are lyrical; they take the skeleton of systems and use them as an armature upon which to build poetic leaps of faith into their next incarnation. The rich history of both painting and of cultural and social systems these works represent, house the memory of that which was, and the imagination to create what will be.

She spoke of the ‘feminine sublime’: “Historically the sublime in landscape has been from a male perspective – in which they come upon the powerful vastness of nature that affects us- and represent it from a distance. They are outside looking in. In the female sublime we immerse the body within nature, seeking to find a way to position the body within the space, to become a part of it.” In Thibeault’s paintings one becomes immersed in the lush color chords and the layers of information that reference the complexity of our world; the collapsing of old orders and the emergence of something new.

In earlier works she did a series of paintings based on photographic images of New Orleans and other areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina; the mangled cars, homes and buildings became a jumble of information that reference these man-made structures and objects and speak to the destructive forces of nature. She used the metaphoric power of painting, the dexterity of its plastic potential, to transform this information.

It is in part the modernist history of art in which artists sought to deconstruct painting in order to find new organizing principles and new truths that informs her ethos. In Cezanne’s work, his search for an inner order to the ‘chaos’ of nature led to a form of deconstructing and rebuilding painting from the inside out. Taking the hidden structures of composition and design and giving them a presence and force that radically transformed the art of painting, leading to cubism and pure abstraction. In Thibeault’s paintings she yields these insights and uses them to reconstruct a sublime order out of the chaos of the world. Collapsing systems become the ingredients to new painterly universes that seek a balance and emotional resonance, that create a ‘space’ for the body and soul to occupy.


Thibeault is an intuitive painter; she makes countless drawings, engaging in a form of automatism blended with her source material, to discover new compositional possibilities. The drawings are conduits to her soul, allowing new narratives to emerge from an immersion into the oceanic swoon of feeling and emotion she wants to unleash in her work. She showed me some new paintings that were incomplete. “These works have a portal, a doorway to another ‘space’; I am not sure where or what this space is, but I am exploring this new idea. I am interested in creating a space for the body to occupy. It emerged organically from my drawing and is something that I will pursue to see where it leads.” It is the openness to inner needs that shapes the works. The raw information of the world and its discontents subjected to emotional and psychological forces takes her through the labyrinth – the golden thread that guides her is the rich history of painting.

As we spoke I mentioned my idea of the sublime by way of quoting Rilke, “Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are just able to endure” Thibeault was visibly moved, she hurried to a wall in her studio and pulled down a piece of paper she had pinned there, it was filled with her favorite quotes by Rilke from Duino Elegies and The Book of Images. This led to conversations about literature, consciousness and memory. She told me of a few writers whose ideas she is informed by. “There is an scientist-author, Rupert Sheldrake, who has a theory of ‘morphic resonance’, the idea that ‘memory is inherent in nature, that natural systems inherit a collective memory’. Another scientist-author, David Bohm, writes about his understanding of the nature of reality and consciousness, that it is never static or complete but an unfolding process. These two writers inform my work and reflect my feelings about the nature of art, its representation of a collective memory and its ability to convey information on a deep intuitive level. The idea that nothing is static but a continual unfolding process is deeply embedded in my approach to painting.”

Art is the collective memory of the human race; it is also the memory of systems and life forms that preceded our species, whose memory imprint is etched in the tissue of our minds, bodies and spirits. Marie Thibeault creates paintings that seek to express the endless unfolding process of systems and the collective memory of the past that informs and shapes the future.

Her works are alchemical experiments that take the wreckage of collapsed systems, and using the tools of painting, produce dynamic expressions of the sublime, to create an immersive space where one can inhabit the continual process of unfolding.

Upcoming exhibitions:
Color Vision, group show Huntington Beach Art Center, May 2018
Solo exhibition at Gremillion Fine Art in Houston, TX early 2019

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