As demand for his landscape paintings continues to grow, it’s becoming clear that collectors are connecting with Thomas Paquette’s vision of the American vista. “It moves beyond even the representation of this beautiful landscape,” said Sharon Ewing of Philadelphia’s Gross McCleaf Gallery. “He's actually on a mission to make sure that we preserve it.” It's a mission that is facing challenging times.
Paquette’s 2016 schedule was packed with exhibitions and shows---including one at the Gross McCleaf Gallery---that put his vibrant oil paintings on display in galleries and museums from Pennsylvania to Minnesota to California. An active travel itinerary has been common over the last three decades. Highlights from Paquette’s younger days range from tales of riding freight trains through the American West to a meaningful moment while hitchhiking in Yukon.
“It was like a great dream,” Paquette recalled of all that surrounded him in the Canadian territory, the sunlight glistening off a distant glacier.
The stranger who provided a ride held a distinctly different view.
"He’d stop to fill up his car with another quart of oil and throwing the can out. I was kind of horrified," Paquette said.
"And I said, ‘Why did you throw that out?’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s just a big wasteland.’ And he went on and he was very bitter about the landscape. He said, ’That’s all toilet paper on its way to being made.’"
"And I thought, he really needs to see what I see.”
Based on his success, many are seeing what Paquette has been seeing and painting. His work has been displayed at several American embassies around the world. Art collectors, says Ewing of the Gross McCleaf Gallery, continue to show interest in his work.
"He's technically extremely good and the paintings themselves, if you see them on the wall, it's like you're moving into a room that is full of atmosphere and beautiful light and color," said Ewing, who compared Paquette to the famous artist-explorers of the 19th century, Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt. Their work provided Americans with their first images of the dramatic landscapes of the American West. They also prompted leaders to begin work that would eventually turn places like Yellowstone into National Parks.
"Tom Paquette is in the same genre. It moves beyond even the representation of this beautiful landscape, he's actually on a mission to make sure that we preserve it. And I think that distinguishes him from other landscape painters," Ewing said.
Paquette acknowledges Moran and Bierstadt as inspirations. He has spent most of his professional life seeking new vistas that can be transformed to canvas. He also points out that modern technology provides views of virtually any landscape in the world. As he develops his work, he faces "a different kind of problem, but we still need to see the world in a wondrous way. Now, we need to re-discover the land that’s around us."
That need may be reaching a new, more urgent level. While most of our conversations have focused on personal history and creative process, Paquette did offer some thoughts on the changing political landscape. Like many, he sees a troubling trend among the Trump Administration's Cabinet picks, who seem to show a preference for corporate profit over preservation and protection.
He supports groups like Friends of Allegheny Wilderness, Old Growth Forest Network, and Food and Water Watch and plans to reach out to his representatives to air his environmental concerns. He'd like to be more active, but he will spend much of 2017 painting and preparing for his 2018 exhibit "America’s River Re-Explored: Paintings of the Mississippi from Source to Gulf.”
"In 2017 I hope that people get outside and enjoy the great natural beauty that is America," Paquette said.
"Someone else has got to do it; I’ll be chained to my easel this year."