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Andrew Thompson: The Artist as Angler

Andrew Thompson: The Artist as Angler September 20, 2023
“Smelt Run,” painting on panes by Andrew Thompson
“Smelt Run,” painting on panes by Andrew Thompson

No one is likely to call Andrew Thompson “a sporting artist” – a commercial artist who illustrates hunting, fishing and wildlife books and magazine spreads – but, as he acknowledged in a recent interview, “fish have been a preoccupation of mine since college – it’s a subject I always return to.”

Thompson, who divides his time between Hague and Brooklyn, was among the artists, artisans and craftsmen showcased at this year’s invitational Rustic Furniture Fair, held September 9 at Adirondack Experience in Blue Mountain Lake.

Wood panels upon which he had painted a Lake Trout chasing schools of smelt were among the works he exhibited. Also, a set of canoe paddles on which a Wood Duck was painted on one side; when reversed, Brook Trout and its forage were revealed. Another two-sided set portrayed a Common Loon and a Luna Moth. Both sets of paddles were mounted on racks of finished hardwoods.

The painted paddles came about somewhat serendipitously, Thompson explains.

“I was repairing a canoe paddle that belonged to my great-grandfather – he purchased the cottage in Hague that members of my family still occupy – and once it was done, the repair was visible, so I painted it black. I then painted a fish against the black background – I don’t think he would have minded,” said Thompson.

Paintings on hand-carved paddles from Canada, of Lake Trout, Smelt and Brook Trout, followed in quick succession.

“I like paddles as forms and I liked the fact that these painted paddles were sculptural and interactive,” said Thompson, “I realized they could become a series that might be fun to continue.”

Thompson is aware that painted paddles have, historically, decorated many a camp in the Adirondacks and the Thousand Islands; he sees his pieces as a sophisticated take on a folkart native to the region.

The paddles also erase the distinction between fine and decorative art, or art and home furnishings – distinctions Thompson does not find especially useful or interesting.

“I can be blown away by things that are purely decorative as I can be by something labelled fine art,” said Thompson, who, by the way, is a nationally recognized expert on Thomas Hart Benton and is himself an art dealer.  “If my work is considered fine art by one person but used as cabin décor by another, that’s totally fine with me.”

The Rustic Furniture Fair is, therefore, nice fit for Thompson’s work, not only because it features art as well as furniture and home furnishings, but because it articulates an approach to design that appeals to Thompson’s sensibilities – one based on nature and the history of the Adirondacks.

And it attracts hundreds of people who share Thompson’s interest in fishing.

“I always had an interest in painting fish. I’ve always loved Winslow Homer’s fish and fishermen,” said Thompson.

Thompson traces his descent from Homer, or the naturalists who explored North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, rather than a sporting arts painter like Ogden Pleissner (1905-83), a fellow alumnus of Brooklyn Friends whose works are now owned by the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont.

“Fishing is meditative; it’s about being outside,” said Thompson. “It makes for some beautiful moments and for some frustrating moments, but it’s always worth doing.”

Thompson more or less fished through the pandemic.

“I got to take my kids fishing almost every day when there wasn’t ice on the lake. We had one of the most epic seasons ever,” he said.

Fishing, whether fly fishing or fishing with bait, requires “understanding, appreciation, even reverence,” says Thompson.

Thompson said he would paint fish even if he wasn’t an angler. Nevertheless, the sport, the activity, the discipline – however it is defined – has made him a better painter of fish and their habitat than he would be otherwise.

“I know a lot about fish,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I’ve acquired a general understanding of them that most other artists are unlikely to possess.”

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