Anxiety, Isolation and the Tunnel Vision Offered by Miniature Art: Thomas Doyle
As a child I remember our family piling into the car for a Sunday afternoon drive. My father would select a picturesque route that would take us to an out-of-the-way neighborhood or town different from ours to show us another way of life. I enjoyed looking at houses situated on unusual plots of land, those with elaborate landscaping, or the occasional house with an overgrown lawn, missing shutter or something that just seemed out of character from the setting. I liked spotting various small details; a glimpse of a swimming pool, garden shed or cupola, the backlights of a car in the garage, or a dog running around the backyard. At dusk I loved observing the movement from within these homes as the interior lights would show inhabitants moving from room to room. After these drives I would think about the people who lived in these different and often idyllic communities and wonder if their lives were similar or different from mine. The common thread to all my thoughts was my anxious question “does anyone live a perfect, easy and uncomplicated life even if they seem to be living the American Dream?”
A walk through the creative works of Thomas Doyle takes us down a very similar journey; his work compels us all to think, wonder, interpret and question not only his art but ourselves. Mr. Doyle creates highly stylized and intricate narratives with psychological implications through small scale, mixed media environments and miniature settings in 1:87-inch scale or smaller. His vignettes often focus on suburban life, portrayals of the classic American Dream home juxtaposed with the interaction of man versus the forces of nature, the contemporary struggle of man against man, and man against his own personal fears.
In a recent interview he stated “…I don’t have a very rosy view of the future, and I suppose that telegraphs quite clearly through my work…the subject of my work tends to be infused with anxiety, fear isolation, and hopefully some humor as well.” Doyle’s vignettes evoke the classic textbook definition of anxiety: an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes. His creations zero in on an isolated, past or imminent event, or a foreshadowing of an occurrence with an uncertain future. These anxious foreshadows lead us to a better understanding on his unique perspectives that we are only transient visitors moving through our individual and very personal environments. Many of Doyle’s vignettes are enclosed in a glass dome or case. These enclosures create a unique and immediate environment for the particular narrative, compress the scene and quickly evoke the emotion of isolation, enabling us to to immediately begin an intimate, very personal relationship in the journey through his story. He has stated “Enclosing the works has the effect of bringing them to life; when they are exposed, they feel like ordinary objects to me.”
Thomas Doyle began his creative journey as a young boy living in small ranch-style home in Grand Haven, Michigan (very similar to many of the homes he includes in this vignettes) and at an early age he displayed interest in dioramas and a love for creating settings that told a story. Thomas was encouraged by his family to explore his natural creativity; he accompanied his mother on regular excursions to museums and observed both his mother and grandmother immerse themselves in the details of needlepoint and cross stitch projects. Like many children he played with miniature action and military figures and took his childhood play to a higher level by building intricate settings for them. By age 8 he utilized odds and ends materials such as clay, common household items such as shoeboxes to make a dollhouse for his Paddington Bear toy. He briefly considered a career in the sciences and eventually attended art school in California to study painting and printmaking and there he gained and refined numerous technical skills. These skills continue to evolve and serve him well; Thomas has become a serious and successful contemporary artist who works in various media including sculpture, photography and the miniature art form.
Doyle has spent much of the last ten years working in the miniature form. The physical use of small scale enables him to transport us from the vastness of our real world and society into a smaller more intimate world and creates an immediate escape into the narrative. Thomas begins each new work with a story in his mind; he then prepares numerous sketches outlining his overall vision for the narrative and these sketches often help pre-empt unwanted complications or unnecessary design complications during the many hours spent in creating each component. Thomas uses a variety of common materials including wire, foam, wood, styrene, plaster, glass, papier-mâché as well as items salvaged from the trash and makes use of architectural figures, trees and grass. These figurines have little to no facial details and are striking in comparison to the detail he includes on all other elements. This lack of facial expression allows us to see these characters floating through each scenario, oblivious to the many facets of each narrative and to the sequence of events that may unfold and allows us to place ourselves into the situation. An example is Doyle’s first work in miniature, a depiction of a young boy standing before a birthday cake sitting on a 1950’s kitchen table. This inaugural miniature was designed to be viewed through a small hole in the framing shadowbox, so the viewer could enter the scene through a circular tunnel-like field of vision or as if viewing it through a camera lens. This piece, part of of his “Distillation” series illustrates the common feeling of human isolation often encountered during a part of a joyful domestic situation. The isolation felt by the young boy on this happy occasion is amplified through viewing the scene through the shadowbox hole drawing us exclusively to this limited expression of emotion in one single moment.
As an adjunct to this first solo show Doyle’s work “Sapper” will be featured in the Gallery at D. Thomas Fine Miniatures in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York (April 15-June 15) and will be an important stop on the 2016 RiverArts Annual Studio Tour. In “Sapper,” Thomas transports us to one moment in the life of a family and the complex miniature world of their suburban high ranch home. We are drawn into a series of interactions that include two brothers dribbling a ball in the driveway while their parents are immersed in a possible marital conflict in the backyard. Beneath these interactions, tunneled through the bedrock foundation supporting their home and private world are seven World War I sappers immersed in a defensive operation, seen through a cross-section trench or sap. In “Sapper” Doyle provides his insight and commentary on everyday domesticity; at any time conflict equal to a well-executed military operation may exist together with the calm space provided by the American Dream home. It moves us to consider the anxieties that both exist and invade everyday life and how these fears motivate us to either further engage or retreat from the resulting dangers.
Mr. Doyle discussed his important miniatures and other works, including “Sapper” during a special Open House and Reception held on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at D. Thomas Fine Miniatures.
About the Artist
Thomas Doyle, born in Grand Haven, Michigan, is now a long-time New York resident. He has shown his sculptures at galleries and museums across the United States and in London, Los Angeles, Florence, Seoul, and Beijing. If the creek don’t rise is Thomas Doyle’s first solo museum exhibition.
All Photos: Courtesy of the artist
ABOUT D. THOMAS FINE MINIATURES
D. Thomas Fine Miniatures is an online and in-store retail destination featuring artisan dollhouses and top quality collectibles including 1/12th scale furniture and accessories. The shop also offers workshops and classes taught by master artisans.
The concept, designed to appeal to collectors, crafters and enthusiasts at all skill levels and abilities, was created, in part, to raise awareness of miniatures as a decorative art form and to introduce the discipline not only to a new generation but to those who may just be discovering it!
The shop also features a gallery space showcasing works in miniature by well-known artists from all over the world.
D. Thomas Fine Miniatures is located at 579 Warburton Avenue in the village of Hastings-on-Hudson NY. Gallery and shop hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday from Noon to 5:00 pm. Evening hours are available by appointment.