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Khalif Tahir THOMPSON


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Through my practice, I chronicle the lived and imagined experiences of and between human beings. I believe painting can be a tool in considering the emotional, psychological complexity of an individual’s story and identity. Creating imagery that connects one to the realm of another, I alter perception and invoke empathy towards my subjects, depicting their reality across a visceral lens. Focusing on portraiture and figuration, my subjects include family, friends, and cultural figures placed in constructed settings. I render my subjects in oil paint, incorporating mixed media, collage, and handmade paper to build the abstracted environments in which they exist.

The works submitted are a selection of paintings examining a range of subjects, with regards to cultural figures, romantic, familial relationships, and individual identity. This work essentially examines my interest in seeing and understanding the likeness and lived experience of people. Through the different subjects’ primary gaze, the work connects the viewer to them, establishing a relationship that garners insight and introspection. The atmosphere of each piece hosts distinct environments that fluctuate from tangible to ethereal, framing the viewers’ perception towards their pain, joy questioning, resolve, and role in the world in which they live.

I create the work on primed or raw canvas, both stretched and unstretched. Using a graphite pencil, I then draft out the composition and figure. I render portraits, figures using oil paint and brushes, layering over time. While constructing the setting of each work I used gel medium to adhere the different cut-out shapes and textures to the surface, further informing the structure and body using a wide range of materials such as rust, denim, silk, wool, leather, beads, newsprint and magazines. I further add pigmented handmade paper to the compositions, using abaca, cotton, hemp, and denim fiber.

The ongoing language of painting presents a long history of the classical tradition, different movements, and techniques. In particular, as it pertains to black portraiture and conceptualism, it is to this day, lacking in the recording of black lived experience. Early 20th century innovators documenting black life through art such as Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Faith Ringgold were influential in telling diverse stories. In contemporary art we see the tradition carried on with artists such as Henry Taylor, Kerry James Marshall, and Tschabalala Self. By prominently depicting black individual stories, my work further expands conversations surrounding black art portraiture, figuration, and theory.

Khalif Tahir Thompson is best recognized for his powerful work concentrated in portraiture and figuration. Incorporating painting, drawing, collage, printmaking, and paper-making into his practice, he explores notions of self through race, sexuality, and spirituality. Recently he graduated from Purchase College with his Bachelors in Fine arts degree and completed a fellowship at the EFA Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in NYC, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Jerome Emerging Artist residency at The Anderson Center. Thompson will be attending The Yale School of Art in pursuit of his MFA in Painting/ Printmaking in the Fall of 2022.

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Sugarcane Magazine Artist Spotlight: Khalif Tahir Thompson 3 April 2020
Melissa Hunter Davis
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Cerebral Women Episode 82 - A Conversation with Khalif Thompson
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Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery at BRAFA 2022 I 19 – 26 June 2022