Bill Thomas


Tub and Toaster, 1991.



"A man's work is nothing but the long journey to recover, through the detours of art, the two or three simple and great images which first gained access to his heart."

Albert Camus

"Nothing but" statements like Camus' are always attractive to me because they

offer answers, and, although I have mellowed over the years and learned to be

satisfied with mostly questions, I am still easily seduced by the fantasy of a

painless and easy, not to mention romantic, explanation of the journey through

life. Painless, that is, unless the "simple and great images" Camus alludes to are

themselves pain-full, and the access they gained to my heart was like that of a



On September 15, 1959, I witnessed the bloody aftermath of a bombing at my

elementary school, where a madman killed himself and five others by

detonating a powerful bomb on the school grounds. This was an extremely

upsetting event for me and my fellow six-grade students, but no consideration

was ever given to the treatment of our trauma. In fact, nothing much was even

said about it when we returned to school the next day. Those of us who

survived the blast and saw the bodies became part of a conspiracy of denial and

were condemned to having to recover (from) this "great image."


Recovering this image from my memory has necessarily brought me "closer" to

death, and has led me to examine our cultural attitude which denies death.

Historian Philippe Ariés describes this attitude as the "forbidden death."

Perhaps nowhere is this denial stronger than with regard to the social taboo of



My current project, the SUICIDE series, attempts to deal with this taboo

social-psychological content in an ironic way, looking at suicide from both

serious and humorous perspectives. The photographs consist of self-constructed

and directed tableaux in which I am seen committing suicide by a variety of

outrageous means. I attempt to further the believability of the scenarios

through use of the hyper-real information available from the 8" x 10" format,

together with their presentation as large, 32" x 42" black and white prints.


René Magritte said that we must not fear daylight just because it almost always

illuminates a miserable world, and so it is my intention to present the viewer

with several death and misery related issues -- the acknowledgment and denial

of death, the cohesion of the self, self-destructive behaviors and alienation

--against the backdrop of humor.


In this context, humor is more than a clever device to gain access to the darker

sides of ourselves. Humor contains a life-affirming, restorative power which

can also sustain us during our long journey through the detours of art and life,

regardless of what images we might unwittingly recover -- and then have to

recover from.

- Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas can be reached at