top of page

12 Questions: Barbara Campbell Thomas

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

I find this question difficult to answer as so many books have been important for various reasons over the years. Some that rise to the top though: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton and The Wild Iris by Louise Glück.

2. What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on wrapping up the last few paintings for my first solo show in New York City, set to open in early October in the project space at The Painting Center. Like the paintings currently up at James May Gallery, these are acrylic and pieced fabric paintings.

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

I have learned humility through failure. I have also learned patience and diligence, particularly when it comes to achieving goals. Last year I received a big grant from the NC Arts Council. It’s easy to see that success outwardly and think someone has everything figured out, but what most people do not know is that I applied for that grant six times before I got it. Failure can embolden me, prompting me to work harder, as well as urging me to keep trying until I succeed. Failure has made me a more resilient artist and person.

4. What is your most unusual habit?

I keep different books—of potential painting titles, of the books I read, of important quotes from books I have read. These are distinct from but very connected to the same mentality that compels my sketchbook habit—which is religious. I have been keeping sketchbooks for the last 25 years, and I find these books are the most enduring record of my life.

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

Jacopo Pontormo! One of my very favorite paintings in the whole world is his Deposition, found in a small chapel in Florence. I love the way he distorted bodies and used wild, unusual, exuberant colors. His portraits are striking to me for their precision and for their stillness. He used abstraction to get at interiority, and I try to do the same in my paintings, so I would be curious to see what he would do if he were to paint my portrait. I am sure it would be incredibly illuminating.

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

I would say my painting table. My father-in-law made it for me in exchange for a painting. He built it relative to my height, and it’s on wheels, so I can move my palette and brushes around the studio with ease. I tend to like tables to be much higher than usual as I don’t like to sit when I work—I even stand when I am sewing—so this table makes me very happy.

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

I go for long walks in the countryside around my house. I found that exhausting my body often restores my perspective.

A question I ask myself: Are my thoughts actually true, or am I going to the worst case scenario here because when I am overwhelmed and stressed I always go to the worst case scenario?

8.   Who/What influences your work?

My work is very inspired and influenced by the writings of mystics from pretty much every faith tradition. The poetry of Rumi and Hafiz inspire me, as do the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Cynthia Bourgeault (who is a contemporary Episcopal priest and mystic), the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr and the Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh.

9. Do you collect anything?

I don’t collect anything with intention, though I have a weakness for buying/collecting books for sure.

10.  What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell her to be kinder to herself—to not be so self-critical and to let life play out in its own time. I would tell her that there is no one route to becoming an artist, but that she can make her own route.

I am a college-level teacher, and as I get to know my students over the course of any semester, I look at them and think, they are so beautiful in their uniqueness, every one of them. I wish they truly knew how beautiful they are. I wish I knew this when I was younger too.

11.  In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice? 

In the last couple years, I have started meditating in the mornings, before the rest of my family wakes up. This has made the world feel bigger, more expansive and more full of possibility, so it’s been a big impact on my work.

12.  Share an inspiring image.

I am sharing this image of my youngest son. In this picture we were traveling north in the car to visit family, and the C+C Music Factory song “Everybody Dance Now” came on the radio. He LOVES this song and his face just broke into the most beautiful, exuberant expression of pure JOY! I love the fact that he lets music give him this kind of happiness, and I love the fact that I was able to capture this moment of him being who he is so completely. Any time I get a glimpse of this kind of pure human joy I am inspired.

Barbara's work is available on ARTSY and on view at James May Gallery as a part of the exhibition: SOMATIC SHAPES.

Exhibition dates: Sept 5- Sept 30

James May Gallery

213 Steele Street

Algoma, WI 54201


Thu-Sat 10-5

Sun 1-5

Mon 10-1

or by appointment



bottom of page