Thomas Lyon Mills

In her novel, The Abyss, Marguerite Yourcenar quotes an alchemical dictum: obscurum per obscurius; ignotum per ignotius, which roughly translates, proceed toward the obscure and unknown through the still more obscure and unknown.


My dreams, documented and annotated over the past forty years with text and drawings, have proven to be prophetic harbingers of where I need to work.


I begin all my paintings/drawings on site, concentrating for over twenty-five years in the Roman, Neapolitan and Sicilian catacombs, where, with indebtedness to the priests who watch over these sacred tunnels, I work alone. Silence and dampness, blind translucent spiders the size of my hand, phosphorescent mantises, and endless tunnels (often transparent and levitating) replicate and deepen my dream life. I have traveled to work in Mayan sites in Mexico, on top of the Parthenon, down into the abandoned marble quarries in the Greek Cycladic islands, and in Central Turkey’s abandoned Byzantine caves and underground cities in Kapadokya.


Then I work on these pieces, often for years, in my Providence, RI studio, cross-pollinating locations and dreams. I extend the process as long as I can, including building three-dimensional models: animal bones and old tools substitute for on-site trees and stumps; stacks of abandoned mud wasp houses peppered with oblong tunnels become underground labyrinths in miniature.


To complement this on-site work, I fill sketchbooks that form an archive of images from museums, archeological sites, and landscapes. The studio is the perfect place for these images to merge with my primary sites.


Everything is transformed into one world – one cosmology – one overwhelming threshold where the seen and unseen co-exist. Trees and mosses dissolve into tunnels and roots, friends, family and ghosts reside with strange and marvelous creatures. This is my preferred world, the boundary world of memory, time and dreams.


In his commentary on Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, John Lanchester says it best when he writes that, “In a time which celebrates fame, success, stupidity, convenience, and noise, here is the perfect antidote, a hymn of praise to obscurity, failure, intelligence, difficulty, and silence.”