A! Magazine for the Arts

"Petroscape" Ink and Acrylic on Hand Cut Paper, 108" x 180", 2017

"Petroscape" Ink and Acrylic on Hand Cut Paper, 108" x 180", 2017

Thum is concerned with environmental issues

August 25, 2020

Kathleen Thum’s first political art was created when she became a new mother.

“I started creating political art in 2010 after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill in the gulf coincided with me becoming a new mother. My sensitivity and awareness of environmental issues was heightened, and I became even more concerned about the world we are leaving for our children. As an art maker, creating is my way to begin to examine and make sense of such complex issues.

“I have a lot of issues that interest me, especially in this current political climate and at this uncertain time of potential change in our country. However, the issue I have been exploring in my studio work for 10 years now is the dialogue around fossil fuels, specifically, the pipeline infrastructure of petroleum and the materiality of oil and coal. I seeoil and coal as an integral part of our contemporary existence, yet these physical substances are mysterious and unknown to me, mostly contained and controlled by the industry.Through the work, I aim to bring awareness of our disconnection and dependence on fossil fuels and to pose questions and begin conversations, not necessarily offer answers.I’m interested in the power that fossil fuels have in creating our modern world and equally interested in conveying the dark side of fossil fuels and the environmental cost we must bear.

“I have not always created political art. My earlier work revolved around abstract depictions of internal body systems, such as nervous systems and nodal systems. But I’ve always been interested in abstraction and mark-making as tools to communicate an emotive quality in an artwork. I want to engage the viewer through emotion and intellect,” Thum says.

Before she started down the political art path, she was interested in architectural and mechanical drawing in high school. In her senior year, her art teacher suggested going to art school, and she thought about art making in the fine arts as a possible path.

“I can’t remember the first piece I created, but I loved figure drawing when I was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Gesture. Movement and line have been a consistent passion of mine in all art forms. For the most part my artistic style is abstract, although it varies depending on my goals in the studio. My artistic style follows my conceptual interests and my interest in keeping things fresh and exciting for me in the studio.My preferred medium is drawing based, works on paper. But I’ve always been interested in pushing the definition of what a drawing can be, so I’ve explored cut paper as a mode of drawing and used gouache, acrylic paint and ink, as well as charcoal and graphite,” she said.

Thum has a Master of Fine Arts from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute, Baltimore, Maryland. She is an associate professor at Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina.

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