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Q&A with MFA student William Thomas

Will Thomas is the next student showing in the MFA Exhibition series. His studio is in the Art Lab.
Will Thomas is the next student showing in the MFA Exhibition series. His studio is in the Art Lab.

As part of the art department’s Master of Fine Arts Exhibition Series’ “Your Turn to Burn” program, William Thomas’ paintings are on display this week in Hanes Art Center’s John and June Allcott Gallery.

Staff writer Elizabeth Tew spoke with Thomas about his inspiration for the show and what he hopes people will take away from it.

Daily Tar Heel: What is the inspiration behind your show?

William Thomas: What draws me to art now is thinking about the impact that images have on people on a regular basis in terms of developing a sense of the world around them.

I wanted to be able to add a dimensionality of my experience — to try to tease out the relationship between the images that are fabricated and the images we call reality.

I present questions about how identity and representation relates to visual culture.

I’m really interested in the ways that we describe people — what activities, what behaviors and what language do we describe people with as it relates to race and class.

DTH: What kind of pieces can viewers expect from the show?

WT: There is an image of a mouth. And there is a gold tooth and a black tooth and most of the other teeth are whitish.

But then there’s another painting of something in the foreground waving at something on the horizon — waving at something in the distance.

The two images appear in the same set, so I’m giving it to the viewer to describe what those things mean in relation to each other.

I’m asking the viewer to make a stretch to find meaning where it seems to be arbitrary, and to not depend on classical representation.

DTH: In what ways is your show different from others?

WT: I’m showing reproductions of my paintings in the form of fleece blankets.

DTH: What made you want to make that artistic decision?

WT: I wanted them to be artworks, but I wanted them to serve a different function too. Painting has a very specific function.

We put them on the wall and enjoy them. I’ve been looking at all of these paintings, and I look at my studio space and I’m collecting all this stuff that has a limited function.

DTH: What do you want viewers to get from the show?

WT: Social responsibility. I hope that the installation will ask the viewer why they like one thing and why they like another.

DTH: How have your own personal experiences helped you to create the show?

WT: The images I have been making lately have primarily been in response to my own memory and present experiences. It’s this process of reflections. I struggle with making an image that isn’t too personal, but not from the fear that somebody else won’t be able to connect to it.

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Ultimately, I’m just trying to get past the familiar way of talking about issues of race.

DTH: What makes you want to take the less traveled path when talking about race?

WT: There are a bunch of images that are what you expect to see if you are talking about race or class or gender. They are less identifiable.

Maybe you can place them because I’ve grouped them with other images that are fused and charged. You get some kind of connotation you wouldn’t get if they weren’t in the same group.

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