Like a movie director, artist Marshall Thomas transforms his models into warriors with slashes of red paint on their faces and pieces of twine wrapped around their necks. “I have my own ideas of who I want this person to be and how I want them to pose, but it’s up to the model to bring their own unique emotions, style, and personality to the shoot,” he says. “I don’t tell my models why I’m painting them a certain way, and I don’t tell them what emotions I expect from them — I want them to be as authentic as possible. That contrast, tug, and pull, between myself and the model, I think, makes the most interesting photographs.”
A recent graduate of the College of Charleston School of the Arts, Thomas says he was a bit lost when he first left school. Renting a studio at Redux encouraged him to make the most of his money, and working alongside that community of artists has inspired him to make the most of his time. Executive Director Karen Ann Myers is a fan of the young artist. “Marshall is eager to learn from and share with the people surrounding him,” she says. “He’s clever and has committed to following ’60s art.” Thomas’ work continues to evolve, and in the last few months, he’s turned his attention to CMYK screen-printing on glass.
CMYK is a subtractive four-color printing process using cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). This time-consuming and scientific process begins with a digital photograph and ends with a screen-print in a light frame. “I want the final piece to work,” he says. “I want people to be able to appreciate both the process and the final outcome equally, but working with my hands — printing, cutting, painting — and getting lost in the details of each step is why I am so drawn to printmaking as a medium.”
Influenced by the work of Chuck Close, Thomas says the journey from full-color digital slide to hand-printed glass panels is different every time. “You lose and gain so much from start to finish — your hand is involved every step of the way — so you end up with colors, shadows, and highlights that weren’t part of the original image. You get scratches, chunks of ink that have bled together when they shouldn’t have. You get the depth from printing on four sheets of glass that you can’t have on a computer monitor or on an archival inkjet print.”
In “McIver I,” a beautiful woman stares upward, away from the viewer as if there is something more compelling off in the distance. Thomas has used this image for three separate light boxes, letting it get “messier” and more abstract with each revision. Working with non-professionals allows for a greater level of expression. “People that are comfortable with themselves and with me, but a bit unsure of the process as a whole, are much more interesting to shoot because they hold on to that feeling of vulnerability. They stay a bit more guarded. In the final portrait, I think, and hope, that the vulnerability comes across as honesty, which a lot of people can connect with — he or she is not simply a model posing for the camera, but a real person, with real insecurities just like everyone else.” Thomas’ dramatic use of color emphasizes the emotional depth, creating another level of intensity.
Thomas embraces and exaggerates the inconsistencies within his imperfect process. The work pushes him to focus his energy on the colors, the glass, and the screen, transforming them from beautiful women to warriors. “Sitting down and working on a tedious linocut for weeks or light boxes piece by piece, step by step, is my way of stepping outside of myself, if only for a couple of hours.”