Thompson's most wonderful world
Gerry Thompson has painted her life.
And, judging by the artwork displayed on the walls of her Port Coquitlam home, Thompson has lived a most glorious life — filled with adventure, beauty and love.
There are more than two dozen of her watercolours, oils and acrylics up in her three-storey townhouse: some are originals, others are giclees though she admits she sometimes can’t tell them apart because of the high quality of reproduction from the printer.
Her images are striking yet so calming. She has a marine series (boats at rest in Coal Harbour, where the water gently ripples underneath); a botanical collection (close-ups of lilies, tulips and roses found in Western Washington, California, Butchart Gardens and her friends’ home); a still life category (fine china, old gate latches, “treasures”); and an architectural study from her travels in France, Spain, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
Thompson gives the viewer a lot to look at. She plays with dramatic light and shadows, creating a richness of textures, colours and details. Her Bijou d’Albi — a 36 by 48 inch acrylic on canvas that captures Sainte-Cecile Cathedral in Albi, France, where she visited with a group in 2004 — took her a year to complete because of the intricacy of the Gothic style and the layers needed to achieve the most perfect composition with each brick.
Thompson has snapped enough pictures to last her another 50 years, she says, and so she uses these photographic memories to ply her trade to make “realistic abstract” art.
She works nearly every day, getting up at 8 a.m. to get down to business. Thompson has no formal studio so her laptop is on the kitchen table and her easel is in the centre of the family room, where she likes the natural light and the greenery poking out from the yard.
For her, art “is a very serious business,” she says, but it’s a process she enjoys immensely: from the long hours with the paint brush — often working on four or five pieces at a time — to the marketing, selling, exhibiting, jurying, submitting, demonstrating and teaching.
This and last month, Thompson was recognized by her peers at the international level. She was one of 12 Canadian artists to be invited to show in Fabriano, Italy, at a prestigious gathering of 400 artists. Thompson and her husband, Dennis Kiselbach, were at the opening gala of the six-week long exhibit.
It features The Gathering #2, a piece that also clinched third prize from the magazine International Artist, which published the work in its June/July issue. And this month, another highly regarded art magazine, American Art Collector, did a two-page spread on her.
Thompson feels honoured by the recent praise and success of Thompson Studios, a company she formed some 40 years ago after moving from Three Hills, AB — where she first plucked up the courage to pick up her husband’s paint brush while on crutches and expecting her second child — to Abbotsford. Then, Thompson Studios had 50 students learning art, piano and music theory, and training teachers. On the side, the mother-of-three played violin in the Fraser Valley Symphony Orchestra, piano at her church and at the department store Breton’s, in Burnaby, and took art classes at the Fraser Valley College (now UCFV) and later Western Washington University, across the American border.
After she earned her fine arts diploma with majors in painting and printmaking — a two-year program that took her four years to complete because of her busy schedule — her instructor recommended she teach the college’s continuing eduction watercolour classes.
Thompson agreed and ended up teaching for eight years. When she left in 1989, her students asked her, “‘What are we supposed to do now?’ I told them to start a group.”
What emerged was the Fraser Valley Watercolours Society, which just marked its 25th year. “That’s something that I’m very proud of,” Thompson says with a pat of her knee.
Her children are also a source of pride. As they were raised in a home filled with music and art, all three have her creative flair and disciplined work ethic, she says. Her son has his doctorate of music from the University of Colorado and is a professor at Trinity Western University, her second child is an interior designer for Stantec while her youngest has her master’s degree from the University of Manchester in philanthropy work.
Thompson tries to see her family as often as she can despite her hectic regime, painting six hours a day and managing her commercial business with Kiselbach.
A signature member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, she is regularly called to jury exhibitions and to teach workshops. Next March, she will be in Yellowknife, NWT, for a class. Thompson likes to mix beginners with professionals because, she says, “we’re all looking at the same blank canvas.” She puts them to ease, showing them to paint shapes instead of focusing on the entire subject.
Asked what chapter of her long career she has been most content, Thompson says she’s now at her happiest. “I feel like I’ve had lifetimes within my lifetime,” she says, and ends the interview with a piano performance of What a Wonderful World. “It’s always been one of my favourites.”