By Audrey Coleman :: Artwork by Thom Hall
When artist Thom E. Hall was about 10 years old, his family traveled to Miami Beach for a vacation. The sounds and optics of the trip left an indelible imprint on him. “Miami Beach was filled with Art Deco hotels and lots of people who looked different and sounded different from the people I knew in Benton,” Hall recalled. “I remember one rather fleshy, over-tanned woman washing sand out of her navel at a shower on the beach at our hotel. She was wearing a bikini and lots of gold jewelry and was talking about friends back in New York.” He can still remember hearing her accent.
Now, decades hence, Hall’s collection, “Glass Fantasies: Enamels by Thom Hall,” is being displayed in the nationally traveling exhibition, “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal” through Dec. 31 at the Arkansas Arts Center. Hall’s collection was organized by the Arts Center especially for the national exhibit, and includes works he created between 1977 and 1989.
Although he was born in Fayetteville and lived in Benton, Hall said that he has always felt like he’s not from around here. Even so, the connection between Arkansas and Hall is incontrovertible. He was on staff of the Arkansas Arts Center for more than 40 years—34 as Registrar—and has been a familiar face in the arts community in the state for as long.
As for creative influences, Hall said that there has been no greater one on him than his work with the exhibitions and the permanent collection at the Arkansas Arts Center. “Many of my artist friends have specific artists or teachers as influences. I’ve been blessed to have many years of intimate contact with thousands of museum-quality artworks from the 15th century to the present. The quality and diverse range of the art I have seen has helped my eye distinguish complex color and surface that others may not see,” Hall said.
And, that childhood family Miami Beach trip continues to inform the tableau of his work as well. Hall said that some of his works are about beach activities and include “wonderful shades of blue.” For Hall, “the blue triggers good memories of my times at the beach. When light passes through translucent blue enamel and bounces off the silver surface back to the viewer, magic happens.” He believes there is nothing like the energy of the color blue. “It’s very powerful. In contrast, I liked the challenge of depicting flesh tones. Some of my figures have deep tans. Others celebrate delicate porcelain skin that has never seen the sun.”
Hall hopes that “Glass Fantasies” will elicit a broad range of emotions from those who view the collection. “My images are intentionally composed to invite the viewer to participate—to complete the scene by adding what is missing and to bring their own experiences into the narrative,” he said. “Some of the figures in my work are clearly not perfect physical specimens, but they are confident. That confidence gives them power we can all experience if we simply believe in ourselves.” His work also reflects his sense of humor in some ways, and Hall said he hopes the public will see and appreciate it in his collection.
“Fearless” is how Hall describes himself. Consequently, it’s not that surprising then that he would want his collection to draw out emotion in those who come to see it.
“Everything in my life is about emotion and creativity,” Hall said. “All I need to do to get to a meditative, focused place is pick up a crayon or touch the surface of a good sheet of paper. The rest of the world disappears. I must admit that my space is important. I created my nest: my home has colors that remind me of sunset at the beach, and my garden provides peaceful shelter filled with color and texture and energy.”
Hall is an artist who appreciates being one. “I think artists are lucky,” he said.