Thomas Spoerndle


Thomas Spoerndle earned his MFA from Hunter College in 2010 and his BFA with an emphasis in Visual Culture and Writing from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2007. He has exhibited in numerous galleries and project spaces in New York, Ohio and Texas; most recently in group exhibitions at Circuit 12 Contemporary in Dallas, Texas and Orgy Park in Brooklyn, New York, both 2015, as well as solo exhibitions at the Stephen and George Laundry Line in Ridgewood, New York in 2015 and at Novella Gallery, New York, New York, in 2013. His work was featured in the February/March 2015 issue of New American Paintings juried by Michelle Grabner and has been reviewed on Art F City (L Magazine), and He lives and works in New York City.

One of my main concerns as an artist is the exploration of how the mechanics of thought can be translated into visual form. To address this, I have established a basic abstract visual language of systems and structures which I articulate through painting, drawing, printmaking and installation. Throughout each body of work, gridded layers of colors, lines and shapes interweave to create dual experiences, ones that fluctuate between the definition of forms in pictorial space and the reinforcement of the inherent flatness of the individual layers. When separated, each layer represents one of many possible modulations within my visual language. Taken together, they form an unreal but definite space, a unique expression defined by the totality of its internal relationships. As a whole, the work functions as an interface, positioning the viewer as maker. In this role, viewers’ comprehension of the work allows them to simultaneously deconstruct and reconstruct what lies in front of them, thus engaging one of my fundamental subjects—the act of looking.

Q&A with Thomas Spoerndle
by Aaron Ziolkowski

Hi Thomas! Your paintings appear to have been created through a series of mathematical restrictions/boundaries, is this accurate?
It has been a long held belief of mine that restrictions/boundaries are important. The parameters in which I work were defined over a long period of time while hashing things out in the studio, adding and subtracting things from my practice and then making decisions accordingly. One of the first major conscious decisions I made was in Grad School and that was to restrict my palette to Red, Yellow, Blue, Black and White. Initially this came as a result of being frustrated with the feeling that I was starting from square one every time I began a new work. As time passed I came to think of the primary colors and neutrals like black white and grey as a metaphor for the essential elements of visual perception, simplified components of a complex system of interactions that comprise our visual landscape. From there I could focus on the search for a subject matter that would best articulate this notion of using simplicity to create complexity while keeping interpretations as open as possible. Although I have regularly used geometric shapes, another major decision I made roughly three years ago was to work exclusively with abstraction. By layering multiple systems of repeated shapes I was able to define new forms from the results of their overlap. This process also allowed me to create a concrete but open-ended visual language that became an undercurrent to the work, serving as a constant from piece to piece.

The specific outcome of an individual work is primarily developed through the process of painting. Beyond the initial parameters I set up for myself, most decisions are made by evaluating the outcome of each step of the process of laying down color, layering shapes and defining larger forms. Once a work is completed it will often give way to the next and so on. I have a tendency to work in series, which helps to exploit as many variations on a composition as possible. A good friend once told me about an interview with the painter Dan Walsh, whose work I am a big fan of, where he talks about how if a painting is successful you should be able to get five more out of it. I always related to and enjoyed that idea.

Can you discuss your use of color?
As a colorist I’ve always felt like I would position myself somewhere between Joself Ablers with his seminal Interactions of Color and someone like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with his Theory of Colours, the former being more pragmatic and the latter being more intuitive. While at Hunter College I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study with Sanford Wurmfeld whose vast knowledge of color theory exposed me to this broad spectrum of ways in which to look at and think about color. Digesting all of this information is ultimately what led me to think of the primary colors, black white and eventually grey as the essential elements of perception with the layering color becoming a direct metaphor for how these essential elements interact to define our understanding of the world around us. In practice my use of color is very straightforward; using thin layers of acrylic paint I overlap repeated bands of red, yellow and blue, alternating tints, shade and hues with each successive layer. All secondary colors are a result of the interactions of the overlapping layers of paint. Black and White is introduced to provide greater contrast in the figure ground relationship of the whole composition. Reaffirming the flatness of the surface, black and white becomes a counterbalancing oppositional element to the spatial quality created by the thin layers of transparent color.

Can you explain your interest in visualizing the ‘mechanics of thought’?
The idea of visualizing the mechanics of thought comes from thinking about abstractions potential to create a sense of self awareness in how we perceive things whether it be conscious or unconscious. By layering visual information with a certain level of transparency I am inviting the people who experience my work to disassemble and reassemble the work throughout the viewing experience. Using fairly rigid systems of geometrical forms speaks to my personal belief that there are often discrepancies between our preconceived ideals and our perceived realities. It is my experience that the two are rarely, if ever, congruent. 

The metal works appear modular, like an architectural skin. Are these works finite or do they anticipate a larger scale through repetition?
The metallic works, which are the most recent development in my practice, come directly out of an interest in the architecture of fence structures. My interest in geometric fence patterns began many years ago while staying at a house in the tightly packed community of cherry grove on Fire Island. Viewed through the lens of abstraction, I found the lattice-work of the surrounding fences captivating. By utilizing an open geometric structure to define space, the fences created a kinetic dichotomy between the flatness of the material and the fragmentation of what lies beyond. The phenomenological potential of this kind of experience is what prompted me to begin making site-conditional metallic foil tape wall drawings. As that exploration evolved I began to utilize the visual and material language of my more traditional paintings on canvas to explore similar issues through double sided cut hanging canvas works. I do think of these metallic works as modular in the same way that I think of particular groups of paintings as being serial. Creating a sense that a pattern can expand exponentially is something that has been fairly consistent in my work; I don’t think I‘ve ever thought of any individual work as being finite. I prefer to think of the works as having a kaleidoscopic quality, each existing as a potentially fleeting glimpse of one of many possible outcomes.

I believe the most successful works of art deal with the attempt to reconcile contradictory forces. Opposition is an excellent way to keep the people engaged.

Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!

To find out more about Thomas and his work, check out his website.