If you’ve never sat down and had a chat with Carmen Alexandria Thompson, a simple “Allie” to her family and close friends, you’re missing out. With the opening of DRAWL Southern Contemporary Art Gallery, the Little Rock native recently had some of her artwork exhibited for the first time.
Thompson will tell you she’s always had a connection with art, citing trips she used to take to the Arkansas Art Center with her parents when she was younger. Plus, she can trace some creativity back in her family tree.
She says, “Both of my grandmothers were creative types. One had been an illustrator for a brief time for the newspaper – another painted.” Surrounded by creativity, there was always a reason for a young Thompson to be creating. And, even though she calls her early work “terrible,” she says the “positive reinforcement” from family and friends kept her going.
At Hendrix College Thompson naturally found herself studying art and really fell into a groove. She remembers, “I would go to the studio at weird times when no one was there and work on stuff totally unrelated to class just because I’d never really had that opportunity or quiet before.”
After graduating, however, her first job almost sucked the life out of her – working late hours at smoky dive bar. “I lost the will to paint,” she remembers, and knew she had to do something.
After two years of that routine, she packed up and moved to Argentina.
Six months in, she had what she calls an “Aha!” moment that would lead her right back to art.
“Argentina is a third world country and art supplies are kind of a luxury. I managed to pick up a few little crappy tubes of paint and would doodle in my room, but it didn’t feel the same,” she says. It was then that she knew she needed to come back to Arkansas and begin again.
After that she never really looked back, and has been dabbling in both painting and printmaking. In terms of her process, she says paintings take a lot longer than her prints. “I do a lot of adding and subtracting to try to get to what I think is a finished painting. Printmaking is more of a consistent and rewarding process, where I sort of know what’s going to happen each step of the way.”
As far as styles go, Thompson finds influence from the painter Sangram Majumdar, although she also points to others, including: Ken Kewley, Georges Braque, Katherine Kehoe, Wangechi Mutu, Edouard Vuillard, Euan Uglow, Jennifer Bartlett, and Jenny Saville.
Majumdar challenges her, as she says, “He’s not afraid to play with composition in his paintings and he’ll leave pieces of previous paintings exposed in his work. I want to be more like that, I guess. Because I’m not.”
As far as themes go, Thompson likes to play around with chaos, which she considers infinitely open ended. Trying to come up with a depiction of it when still working out the definition provides endless thought for her. She explains, “When I’m painting these chaotic spaces or compositions, the irony is that painting is neurologically an orderly process of perception and mark making.”
When drawing or printmaking, however, Thompson likes to go in a different direction. She says, “I like anatomical figures – I like botany and fusing the two.”
Ultimately, though, if she chose a favorite medium, it would probably involve brushes says, “I’ll never stop loving paint.”
Although art and painting has always been a part of her life, she is new to being a part of the local scene. She feels like things are finally starting to take off, as she laughingly says, “I’m finally selling work for real money for the first time – in other words – not at garage sales.”
On the topic of the local scene, Thompson brings plenty of thoughts to the table. For instance, she wants to see more diverse artwork within the community.
“Sometimes I walk out of one gallery and into another and I feel like I’m seeing the same stuff over and over again … but that’s me. I’m really happy I’m in Guy Bell’s gallery because he really nailed it in making a diverse gallery. You get a little bit of everything. I hope more galleries will push that.”
If you haven’t already, check out Thompson’s work. Her drive and enthusiasm for creating means she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.