Kelli Thompson

New York City, NY


In my paintings, realistic subjects are re-imagined as artifice. I exaggerate color and texture to create an unnatural interpretation of people and objects. My subjects are rendered in isolation, floating within the void of a stark gradient and framed by symmetrical shapes reminiscent of architectural elements. I use synthetic color and overemphasize texture, leading to an uncanny, surreal scene. Surfaces are rendered in a visceral manner, some reading as translucent or improbably reflective. I think of all of my paintings as portraits, and those not depicting a person instead depict objects, which I have deemed suitable stand-ins for human beings. The compositions and treatment of light reference commercial portrait photography, positioning objects to elicit a similar emotional response from the viewer as the human figure.The painted gradients in all of my work reject the brush and hand; the color transitions are barely distinguishable from digital production. Multiple layers cover each and are blended until every mark is eliminated: a technique which mimics digital fabrication, despite my working solely with the boundaries of oil paint, a substrate, and the hand. This act in itself is a tongue-in-cheek slight, given the limitless potential of achieving such pristine images with the aid of technology. Choosing to create these images using traditional painting methods is both humbling and intentionally defiant. Compositionally, geometric shapes are often used as a frame around a frame, demarcating an entryway into an empty place, creating a lens as the viewer’s point of view. Through the pristine level of finish in my subject matter, I participate in the historical tradition of realistic portraiture and still life painting. In contrast, hyperbolic color palettes and juxtapositions of these objects against abstracted formal elements allow me to situate my pieces in a fictional, artificial space, both highlighting and re-contextualizing reality.


Kelli Thompson was born in Monroe, Louisiana in 1982. She received a BA in Fine Art from the University of New Orleans in 2006, and a MFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University in 2009. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, ArtVoices magazine, New American Paintings #86, and in The New Yorker. She has had one solo exhibition in New Orleans, Louisiana, and has been included in multiple group exhibitions across the United States. Kelli currently lives and works in Queens, New York.

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