Urban Monk puts Post-Modern BBQ-ism on menu

 Messenger photos by John Matuszak

"Al Gore Invented the Internet," by Marcus Thomas, demonstrates the artist’s free use of color and his search for new materials and techniques, as well as his sense of humor.

Move over, Robert Motherwell.

Jump back, Jasper Johns.

There is a hot new movement in art, courtesy of Reynoldsburg native Marcus Thomas, aka the Urban Monk.

Post-Modern Barbecuism.

This latest trend, on exhibit at the Central Ohio Art Academy in Reynoldsburg, reflects the young artist’s sense of playfulness along with his ability to find inspiration in the the most mundane details of everyday life.

That’s what Urban Monkism is all about, Thomas explains on his Web site – being able to find beauty in banality, as well as a rejection of materialism.

In fact, Thomas, who studied for 12 years at the academy run by Donna Boiman, doesn’t even use brushes much anymore.

He prefers plastic forks and knives, cheap utensils that are good for digging into southern barbecue and for achieving the desired effects on the varied surfaces he employs.

Barbecue skewers also show up in some of the pieces that show the influence of sculpting classes he took at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he studied for 10 years.

Georgia is where he learned to appreciate good barbecue while sharpening his artistic sensibilities.

But he still maintains strong ties to central Ohio and the school where he began classes at age 6.

"Every time I paint I use one of Donna’s lessons," Thomas said.

While attending Rose Hill Elementary School, Thomas entered an art competition and made a deal with his mother – if he won, she would sign him up for art lessons.

"I said I wanted to go to New York to be an artist, and I didn’t even know where New York was," he said.

Soon after enrolling at the Central Ohio Art Academy, "it became my second home. I tried to get in as many days as possible."

Early influences included video game graphics and comic books, along with the cubism of Picasso and abstract expressionists who splashed colors across their canvasses.

He continued taking lessons all the way through high school.

"Marcus was the second student I had that stayed all the way through," Boiman recalled.

"He didn’t talk to me for 12 years," she added about the student she described as "intense" and "driven."

Thomas had work exhibited in the Governor’s Art Show and, at 17, entered the Rising Star program at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he was later accepted into the undergraduate program.

Over the next decade, "I became one of the locals," Thomas said.

He absorbed the southern culture that revolved around the ritual of barbecue – "the ingredients, the people, the festivities, the dialogue, the atmosphere, and most importantly, the process of how it all comes together," he writes in his book "My LIfe, My Icons: Urban Monkism: Volume II."

All the while, the inspiration for Post-Modern Barbecuism simmered in his head.

Eventually he knew he had to stretch his wings or become rooted like a moss-covered palmetto tree.

The sense of urgency as he made his way to Chicago is reflected in his painting "State of Emergency," depicting a cubist fire engine racing across the canvas.

Bamboo skewers show up in the work, as well, an item that became part of his signature style.

"The Rat Race" is a commentary on his own struggle to find a non-art related job and the rush toward wealth in the north that he did not find in the south, where "there seemed to be a greater emphasis on enjoying life no matter one’s economical status."

The gastronomic delights of Georgia are never far from his mind.

After one especially satisfying feast, Thomas declared "I feel like I have ribs up to my brain," which struck him as an apt subject for a painting.

"What Would Oprah Do?" is a prime example of Thomas’s Post-Modern Barbecuism and use of mixed mediums, while "God Please Stop (GPS)" is an example of the artist’s ability to find arresting images in something as mundane as a Global Positioning System.

The resulting work, "What Would Oprah Do?," incorporated not only a porcine parade and a sated cerebellum, but elements of the African flag, ribbons denoting the spread of AIDS and diamonds that refracted his concern about rappers and their emphasis on "bling" and the rampant materialism its symbolizes.

There is often a lot to digest in Thomas’s works, hidden codes and meanings.

"God Please Stop (GPS)" came from a trip from Columbus to Illinois where it took two hours to silence the incessant voice of the Global Positioning System, represented by the Cheshire-like lips and the extended lines of the highway.

An ongoing series is "Signs of Idiocrasy,"   employing actual graphics from warning stickers about putting a baby in a plastic box or allowing a toddler to play with an air-pellet gun.

His latest works use a combination of lacquer and paints mixed together and applied to plexiglass surfaces, with the requisite barbecue skewers.

After years of work, Thomas finally decided he had amassed a large enough body of work to impress his former mentor and to mount a solo show back in his hometown.

Along with Boiman’s space, Thomas has works on exhibit at Mac Worthington Galeries in the Short North.

The artist avoids using computers in his work, and plans to keep things pretty basic as he creates his own recipe for success.

"The more things went high-tech, the more low-tech I went," Thomas said.

Works by Marcus Thomas will be on exhibit at the Central Ohio Art Academy, 7347 E. Main St., Reynoldsburg (next to Connell’s Hardware) through July.

Information on the artist’s work is at umcstudios.com.

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