Painter Mark Thompson

Desolation beckons from canvases on view at the Nordic Heritage Museum.

Young artist Mark Thompson left the desolation of the plains of Fens in Eastern England, where he was born, in search of the environmental and emotional wilderness and abstractions of Iceland, Alaska, Finland, and Norway. These places inspire his intense wintry landscapes in "The Promise of Happiness," his current exhibit of large-scale paintings at the Nordic Heritage Museum. The eponymous canvas, pictured, is one of the most striking: A less-traveled road disappears into the background; telephone wires slice across a cloudy sky that blurs a feeble sun; a solitary building in the foreground adds an element of darkness to the scene. Thompson effectively captures the dramatic loneliness and quiet unseen forces of these remote areas where weather ravages the terrain. You can almost feel the wind chill through your bones as you look at these paintings. Using a black-and-white palette, Thompson's vast canvases transcend a photograph's sometimes limited clinical imitation by being filtered through his memory. Traveling alone to these remote spots, Thompson takes notes and photos and makes drawings; the resulting portraits depict places located somewhere between reality and memory. Or as Thompson explains in his artist's statement, "The paintings are in part a reconstruction of what I have seen, in part a discovery of the ideal I am searching for." This ideal is a curiously inhospitable place. But it's also familiar. This same attraction to the impossible wilds draws many outdoor adventurers to desolate places; less romantic than Caspar David Friedrich's paintings, it's the stuff of Jon Krakauer stories. Thompson is interested in the moments and spaces where civilization ebbs and wilderness takes over. It's clear from his work that this is as much an internal journey as an external one.

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