Like the rest of America, Brent Jeffrey Thomas was stunned when the events of Sept. 11 occurred.
As a painter, he began thinking about a way to show what he was feeling through his art.
An artist with a growing reputation, the former Belenite came up with an idea that expressed his sorrow but still communicated his nation’s — indeed, the world’s — support of liberty.
“I personally thought Sept. 11 was an attack more than just on America, but on the world,” he said.
In December, he took up his brush and oils and came up with a moving portrayal of the Statue of Liberty caught up in a snowstorm.
“She’s an immigrant, so she’s a symbol of aspirations and hopes for the rest of the world,” Thomas mused in a telephone interview Monday.
“I felt that everything we stand for was under attack. I know for pretty certain that the same group that attacked the World Trade Center in 1993 had plans to attack the Statue of Liberty.
“They’ve attacked world monuments such as the Buddha in Afghanistan. They’re so hostile with their closed-minded perception of the world that all such symbols were jeopardized — all the beautiful, lovely cultural antiquties were jeopardized,” Thomas said.
“There was nothing these people wouldn’t do — they had no concern for human life.”
Thomas said he wanted to produce a painting that showed a symbol of freedom and beauty.
“I wanted, I think, to give a sense of the seasons, that aspect of the beautiful city that had survived.
“There’s also a beautiful sculptural element to snowflakes; they’re each individualized. … It’s a suggestion of human individuality. One is an artifact of God and the other is an artifact of man. They’re both beautiful things.”
He noted that his painting would be “something the Taliban would have opposed. It’s obviously a neo-classical sculpture that suggests Western civilization’s common Greco-Roman culture. That’s definitely something these people would have opposed — they opposed everything from kite-flying to shaving one’s beard.”
Thomas said that, when he began painting the Statue of Liberty, he subtly modified “little things about her — the way her brow is furrowed, her eyes, to communicate a little of that steadfastness, the endurance that Liberty communicates. I had recently also watched a public TV special filmed in the late ’70s when a lot of the restoration (of the Statue) had recently been completed. They interviewed many writers, like Jerzy Kozin-ski, who were foreigners, and they suggested no American born on American soil can quite feel that profound fondess that a foreigner can feel (about the statue).
“Because we live this very blessed fortunate existence in general, we can’t feel all this symbol suggests.”
He said he chose the statue as a “broader statement than a symbol of the flag that suggested that the world had been injured by that terrorist act.”
Thomas said the reaction to the painting has been very enthusiastic.
“Almost everyone who sees it seems to be very fond of it and enjoys the broad symbolism of it,” he said. “It is my hope, when I’m painting something, that … it inspires people, regardless of their reglious beliefs or political affiliation.”
He believes that Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who created the statue, had that inspiration in mind as well.
Thomas also decided his work should have a greater impact upon the world than a totally artistic one.
“One of my childhood friends, Daniel Dodgen, is a psychologist working for the American Psychological Associ-ation, who speaks frequently with people in the government. On Sept. 11, he raced to the Pentagon to give assistance, psychological counseling, which he was permitted to do for a full week after the attack,” Thomas said.
In talking with him, Thomas realized he might be able to make a bit of a difference in the world. “I became aware the mental health aspect … was something that needed propping up,” he said.
He contacted the National Mental Health Association and arranged to have 10 percent of the proceeds of his artwork donated to the cause.
He produced a signed, open-edition 16-by-12-inch print on acid-free watercolor paper and on stretched canvas. Cost is $50 plus shipping for the paper version and $75 plus shipping for the canvas. Orders are shipped upon payment.
To order, call 842-0256, or e-mail [email protected] on the Internet.
“Something like 15 percent of all diagnosed mental health cases are treated, and the rest are left untreated,” Thomas observed. He wants to help.
Thomas, who now lives in Albuquerque, is the son of retired Jaramillo Elementary School teacher Elvira Thomas of Belen.
His girlfriend, Brenda Robertson, is an audiologist for the Los Lunas Public Schools. And his grandfather, Vicente Hernandez, owned a small farm in Belen.
He is currently working on a painting of the Last Supper commissioned by a Texas client.
“The client was good enough to request an entirely new composition for the Last Supper. It’s for his private household, but I will retain the copyright.” That way, he can put out a limited edition.
He’s negotiating for the possible placement of a painting of the Goddess of Justice in the Bernalillo County Courthouse.
Thomas’ work is on display at the Mesa Azul Gallery Cafe on Central Avenue in downtown Albuquerque between Second and Third streets.