About the Ruffin Gallery:
Since 2008, the Ruffin Gallery is an active part of the Studio Art program. Each year the gallery hosts four to six exhibits that serve as the University's most important showcase for contemporary art and are an integral part of the Studio Art experience. Students are involved with the production and installation of these exhibitions and gain valuable experience in the handling and hanging of important works of all types. The gallery hosts a show by each year's Ruffin Distinguished Artist-in-Residence. Every spring the gallery is the site of the Fourth-Year Thesis and Aunspaugh Fellows Exhibitions. The openings are important occasions when the whole studio program gathers to celebrate the successful completion of the major. In addition to the Ruffin Gallery, student and visiting artist work is frequently shown in the RuffStuff and Media Galleries on the first floor of Ruffin Hall.
Ruffin Gallery is currently closed for the holiday. A schedule for Spring 2021 will be released at a later date.
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Barbara Campbell Thomas: Pneuma
Equal parts collage, fabric, and sketchwork, Barbara Campbell Thomas couples paint with quiltwork in her contemplative study of where the spiritual meets the physical
For artist Barbara Campbell Thomas, “pneuma”, stemming from the ancient Greek word for “breath”, is a creative force and spirit which guides everything that she does. As an abstract painter, Barbara’s work is a meditation on giving form to that “breath”, a commitment to capturing what is unsayable.
Combining bright hues of color, layers of paint, and the technique of sewing, Barbara’s paintings are as much about the physical process itself as they are about the final product: “I am a physical being, and my engagement with paint, with painting, is an intensely physical act. But it is the physical engagement with material that has the potential to move into immaterial realms of inquiry. This has always been my experience as a painter.”
One process that is central to Barbara’s work in particular is sewing and creating patterns through quilting. Her connection to sewing came from her mother, who is a quilter herself. Learning from her mother how to quilt in 2014, Barbara immediately became attracted to the activity of what is called piecing, which is sewing together shapes side by side to create a seam. “I quickly started to see that this sewing could be the ground of the painting itself ... The sewn layer felt so rich; it almost felt like a missing part of the work was suddenly present.”
Another dimension of Barbara’s work is her sketchbooks, the covers of which are quilted by her mother. An intense record of her thought process for the past 20 years, the sketchbooks are an integral part of her studio practice. “My sketchbooks always predict what’s going to come.”
The linear aspect of her thoughts comes to life through her paintings. In particular, Pneuma, which the exhibition is named after, went through a drastic overhaul over the course of the pandemic. It was the first time she took a painting off and recut and resewed it back together. The development of her ideas is a testament to how being open to adapting is not only a part of being an artist, but also integral to shaping identity. “I think making a lot of work is a great way to figure out who you are. You just have to make a lot of work and sometimes a lot of it is going to be bad, and that’s okay. I think we live in a culture that doesn’t know what to do with failure. You have to engage with failure as an artist at any age because that is the way in which you figure out what’s working and what’s not.”
Barbara Campbell Thomas lives and works in Climax, North Carolina. Her work combines painting with quilting, overlaying their material vocabularies to create complex formal dialogues within each painting that resonate with the details of her own life and the history of each medium. She came relatively late to quilting, which she learned from her mother, but quickly realized its power as an art form traditionally practiced by women to inform and expand the range of painting.
Barbara Campbell Thomas’s paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States, at the Weatherspoon Art Museum, The Painting Center, the Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art, The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and the North Carolina Museum of Art. She has been an artist-in-residence at the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture and, in 2021, she will attend the Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency. She is a recent recipient of a North Carolina Artists Fellowship.
Barbara Campbell Thomas is an Associate Professor of Art at UNC Greensboro.
In conjunction with her exhibition, Ruffin Gallery Assistant, Olivia Pettee, sat down with Barbara to talk about her process, inspiration, and thoughts behind her show.