Fifth Year Emerging Artists: Alekz Thoms ’20 on creating art with the land

The Olaf Messenger is running a multi-week series on the Fifth-Year Emerging Artists (FYEA) at St. Olaf. The program allows artists to create and display artwork, use St. Olaf studio space and remain in community with current students. 

Alekz Thoms ’20 is on a mission to make art without creating waste. From our shared screen over a Google Meet interview, Thoms held up a batch of paper they had made from cardboard cereal and soda boxes. I could not help but be in awe of their passion for sustainable art and, even more, the patience that must have been required for the whole process. 

But when it comes to their art, it became very clear to me that for Thoms, there is no need to rush the creating process — nor was there a rush to leave St. Olaf just yet. The Fifth-Year Emerging Artist applied to the program because they were not ready to part with the supportive community they had found within the art department.

“While I can make art anywhere, it’s just nice to have people that know me and know the art I make and know my life and are able to give me criticism in that way,” Thoms said. 

Working from home in North Dakota, they have still been able to maintain communication with the art department and get a sense of what everybody is up to on campus as well as the support they need for their projects. 

Apart from making paper, Thoms has also been making their own paint, keeping an open eye to their landscape and collecting anything from rocks, plants and clay from the river banks to make paint pigments.  

“It’s not like a project in itself where I am creating a piece, but more so, exploring the art that I can make with the land,” Thoms said.

Thoms expressed their concern with the gatekeeping of supplies and techniques that tends to characterise the arts, particularly with the making of art materials. After tallying up the cost for getting conventional paint making material, Thoms noted it would have cost around $250. 

“But I found a glass cup from the thrift store for fifty cents and used some tools that were just from the store,” Thoms said. Thoms wants to share with people that art is so much more accessible than it has been made out to be. 

“ For me art is very much about sharing. I create things to share. Even if I am making a portrait painting, the creation is to share with other people the way I view something,” Thoms explained, “gift giving is my love language — I am always making things to give to other people.”

Thoms’ passion to share their growing knowledge on making paint with other people not only  shows their commitment to making knowledge accessible within the artmaking but also truly speaks to how much community is centred in their art journey. 


mensah1@stolaf.edu