Thomas More Artist Exhibit Inspired by Christ, Racial Justice
Michael Thompson is set to graduate from Thomas More University this month with a bachelor's degree in fine art.
He recently closed his solo exhibition at the Eva G. Farris Gallery at TMU, which he called Strange Fruit, a reference to a song by 20th century singer Billie Holiday, a figure that Thompson believes was persecuted for taking a stand for racial justice.
"Strange Fruit is my coalescence and critique of two of the most gruesome events in human history, both of which have had a profound effect on my life: the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the lynchings of people who look like me," Thompson said in his description of his show. "I have created a visual landscape that narrates both the plight and the Resurrection of Christ as a black man in this in-depth examination of the parallels between these two events."
Thompson's emergence as an artist is the culmination of his 22 years of dabbling in a variety of fields, but it comes as no surprise that art has surfaced as a primary talent in his life.
"I have always loved art, from a young age," Thompson said. "I have been drawing since I was a toddler really. But when I was a little more sophisticated, I tried to make my own Dr. Seuss books, with binding and everything." He chuckled. "I cut the pages and tried to draw the characters, so that it was my own interpretation of Dr. Seuss, and my own creation."
Thompson said that all the things that he has done has influenced who he is as an artist.
Growing up in Richmond, Kentucky, his first real immersion in art came when he was invited to a small studio run by an Eastern Kentucky University professor, Richard Dean. Thompson said he that went to the studio weekly from about age 10 to college age, and Dean mentored him as well as teaching him different media through which he could express himself.
"He fostered the thought that I should think of myself as an artist," Thompson said. "That stayed with me."
But during high school, Thompson focused on academics and athletics, specifically basketball, as a small forward or a power forward. This turned out to be how he became acquainted with Thomas More, which recruited him as a ball player.
But Thompson realized that he did not want to play basketball anymore. While he liked Thomas More, he wanted a role in the art world.
Thompson's first two years were more focused on political science and international studies, but toward the end of his sophomore year, he started transitioning toward fine arts and creative writing, and by his senior year Thompson was taking himself seriously as an artist.
"Once I determined to take advantage of the multi-disciplinary avenues the small college offers, I started to find my niche and things kind of took off," he said. "I know a lot of artists in Cincinnati who are more established, and I feel that I am very ready to move on from the educational process."
Thompson thinks that he will take a gap year, or year and a half, so that he can either work with a non-profit, or associate himself with a museum of art, to make more connections and broaden his experience.
He spent two months in Segovia, Spain, and hasn't ruled out returning to that country. He also is curious about other counties, like Singapore or the Philippines. After that, he may pursue doctoral studies in art.
Even though his parents had no experience in art, they are very impressed with their son, who is the first of four children and they are very proud of him. Thompson knows he has set the bar high for his siblings, but he smiled when he said that it is the job of the oldest to set the standard, and inspire the younger ones.
Thompson's exhibit at TMU was popular, a combination of art forms, including wood, gold leaf, coal and asphalt, and mixes oil paints ceramics, refurbished objects, audio and writing, a process that emphasizes his message through many forms, creating a very dramatic panorama.
"By entwining the worlds of history and theology, I believe I can speak truth to power through both powerful narrative imagery and subtle sowing of necessary introspection," said Thompson in his narrative. "Nearly every material and title holds specific meaning if you are inquisitive enough to explore it. Strange Fruit is an ode, a tragedy, an ignition, and a sacred place."
-Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor