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William Paul Thomas, an Artist to Watch

William Paul Thomas is passionate about engaging the African American community both in his work and at the galleries where his art is shown.  Thomas said, “I like the idea of breaking down the stereotypes of who makes and who owns art.”

Last month, Thomas became the first artist-in-residence at the Power Plant Gallery at the American Tobacco Campus, an off-site extension of Duke University.  Thomas utilized his time there to work on his multi-media project, Mood Swings. It includes painted portraits of black men and women who live or work in Durham as well as interviews about what brings them joy.


To date, Thomas has accumulated over 100 audio and video recordings.  When Thomas first began his project two years ago, he primarily focused on black men. He said, “People don’t see the humanity in black man. I wanted to show a broader range of how we see black men represented. Socially I think there is real value to showing a side of a group of people that are not fully represented in mainstream media.”

Given Thomas’ background it was unlikely that he would have become an artist.  Thomas was raised in a working class neighborhood by a single mother in Chicago. He went on to receive a Master in Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. As a teaching fellow at UNC, he taught Basic Drawing and Composition and worked directly with advanced painting students. In 2009 he earned a BFA  with  an emphasis in painting and drawing from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater.

Thomas has exhibited artwork in The Museum of Science and Industry’s annual Black Creativity exhibition. He was awarded an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant in 2011. The Greeenshields grant is a highly competitive $15,000 prize awarded to artists working in a representational style. Thomas utilizes his immediate social network to produce images that explore issues of race- based conflict, identity, and representation.  William Paul Thomas is a 2016 Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant recipient. His video piece, “TEEF: Good for the Soul” was included in the Durham Storefront Project in 2014.

He lives and works in Chapel Hill.

In July, Thomas continued to work in the Durham community as he began a residency at Golden Belt. His new project was inspired by his family history and will include interviews as well as other art forms.

William Paul Thomas is seated near one of his signature portraits.
William Paul Thomas is seated near one of his signature portraits.

Thomas will host an open house at his Golden Belt studio on August 6th.  Attendees will be able to gain insight into his work and sign up to be interviewed for his multi-media project.

Thomas’ inspiring artwork along with his drive to change not only the landscape but the audience of the art community makes him a talent to watch.

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Lawrence Davis III
Spectacular Magazine Sports is a division of Spectacular Magazine. We are a monthly, full color publication which includes features, columns, calendars and commentaries. It is our mission to empower, entertain, and enlighten our market in the Triangle area about the world of sports going on around them.

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