Dwayne Butcher: I wanted to talk with you today because of the exhibition you curated at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Revealed Terrain: Landscape in Contemporary Artists Books. Can you talk a little bit about the exhibition and how you were able to put it together for the Brooks?

Cynthia Thompson: I was asked to curate a book art exhibition for the Goodman Gallery at the Brooks Museum by Marina Pacini which utilized their collection. I spent some time viewing and studying their collection before I constructed a theme for the exhibition. A common thread throughout the works seemed to revolve around landscape.  I wanted to pair these works with works from artists and print studios I am fond of. The paring of the collection with other artists works added another layer to the show. It also allowed the audience to see other works by  well known artists and book artists like Lesley Dill and Julie Chen. 

My statement:
The landscape of book arts and design is ever expanding: technology and formation; language and voice; and, audience and arena. A respect for the historical lineage and an understanding of both disciplines serves as the foundation for this panoramic survey challenging the assumption of what defines a book. Revealed Terrain: Landscape in Contemporary Artists Books illuminates trans-disciplinary thought: structure and content; pure typography; printing; bookbinding; two-and three-dimensional experimental design; and, the multiple— as an experimental map for exploration.
The diversity of these artist books are united through the theme of landscape, however their realizations are defined by their conceptual approaches. The exhibition presents works which range from the more acknowledged interpretation such as Julie Chen’s Invented Landscape and Vija Celmin’s The View; in contrast to those which divulge direction and loss as in Macy Chadwick’s The Topography of Home, or Robert Mapplethorpe’s A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud; to the body as terrain illustrated through Sarah Bryant’s Point of View. The voices highlighted within Revealed Terrain enable lasting documentation and the personal reflection of each artist’s visual journey.

Students looking at Leslie Dills piece in the Revealed Terrain exhibition

DB: You are also known for having curated exhibitions at the Memphis College of Art as well as numerous exhibitions around the country. How did you get into curating and what type of shows do you like to put together?

CT: I feel into curating by accident. While teaching at CW Post long Island University, I became friends with the Curator of the museum and he invited me to curate an exhibition. Having worked in NYC at Harlan and Weaver Intaglio and Dieu Donne Papermill, I was quite aware of many contemporary artists. My first show was a group exhibition titled Obsessive Compulsive Order. Artists I selected for the exhibition worked with various materials in a laborious, obsessive manner. From then on I fell in love with curating and had the bug.

When I moved to Memphis I was asked to take over the gallery and began once again curating group exhibitions. I love to come up with a theme and select works which relate to it in some manner, challenging the viewer to think and reflect.The only solo show I have curated was Louise Bourgeois, her portfolio of prints titled Topiary- the art of improving nature which was commissioned buy the Whitney Museum. I find group exhibitions challenging and exciting even though they are a lot more work. I think it is important to bring different works to Memphis for our students and community at large to see.

Exhibition views from Adrift

DB: Do some of the projects you are or have curated directly influence your own personal work? 

CT: Yes, many times the shows or themes of shows directly end up influencing my work. Many times the themes for shows are pertinent to events happening my life, things I am thinking about or effected by. Like the death of my grandmother and how that inspired the exhibition Anguish.

Exhibition views from Anguish 

What is it about Book Arts and Printmaking that attracted them to you as an artist and curator?

CT: I am attracted to book arts, papermaking and printmaking because they are all very process oriented. There is something about the "making" and the process of making that attracts me. Many times, in my work, the process actually becomes the concept. I love working with my hands and having my hand involved in every aspect of creating the piece from the paper each book is printed on to the hand sewn headbands to the nickel clasps.

Cynthia Thompson working on a new book project as artist in residence at Oregon college of art and craft summer 2011

DB: You are preparing to teach a course in Florence, Italy this summer. Is teaching abroad something that interests you and is this program affiliated with MCA, where you are a professor?

CT: I have taught previously for University of Georgia's Cortona study abroad program and fell in love with Italy. I have been many times, this has also been a direct influence on my work. The program in Florence is through the Santa Reparata International School of Art. I have students from both Rhodes College and Memphis College of Art attending. MCA is currently not in a consortium with this school but my hopes are that the College will consider this as I believe it is important for students to experience study abroad. 

Exhibition view of Adrift

DB: You are involved with the Professional Practices class at MCA. What is the most important advice you give students? What should young artists be thinking about while in school that they really are not doing?

CT: They should be able to define their own definition of success, what is important to them not to another artist. Strive to do what you want, not what you feel you should want to do as an artist. When you figure this out you will set a path before you and make good solid decisions.

I believe students should be thinking about taking challenging courses, courses outside of what they are comfortable with, expand their vocabulary, don't limit it.  Take advantage of every opportunity you can because when you graduate you will miss everything, including opportunities missed.

Cynthia Thompson artist book Enfold

DB: Besides the exhibition at the Brooks and the class in Italy, what else do you have coming up that you are excited about?

CT: I am excited to have time to work on my own work in a new context and place. I love how being immersed in a new environment directly influences my work. I am working on a New Visions Series exhibition for the Fall of 2012. I am not entirely sure about the show as a whole, I am still developing it.

Cynthia Thompson artist book Remorse