Local Duluth artist finds place for her work at Washington Gallery

A pile of boxes center the small, empty room as paintings sit on the floor waiting to hang from a tack on the wall or a fixture from the ceiling.  Each blank canvas has been transformed into a watercolor painting or graffiti. Other paintings were completed using oil pastels, spray paint and even charcoal. Soon these pictures will be on display and the room will be open to the public. “I don’t know what I am going to do with these boxes,” said Kelly Thompson, a 32-year-old artist from Duluth.

Thompson graduated with a degree in Studio Art from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2008. Today, she is preparing for her first art show at the Washington Gallery, located off of Fourth Street and Lake Avenue. The gallery is located inside the Washington Studios Artist Cooperative. According to their website, the building served as the Washington Junior High School until Artspace, a leading nonprofit real estate developer for the arts, transformed the facility into an affordable living and working space for local artists in 1992.

“We do our best to offer a variety of opportunities at the Washington Gallery, not only for those who want to live within the facility but for local artists who want to show their work as well,” said Ryan Tischer, the Washington Gallery Committee Chairperson.

Thompson does not live at the Cooperative, but she has struggled to find a place where she can fully maximize her talent as an artist.

“When I took a couple years off after school, I always felt like I was going to get to a point in my life where everything was going to be going right with my kids and where I was living,” Thompson  said.  “I was living in apartments but I realized it was really hard to make a mess on somebody else’s property, so that held me back. I felt like I was losing touch with making art. So last February, I moved into my sister’s house and I felt like it was my space again, even though I may be completely destroying her property.”

Unlike some local artists, Thompson’s work is not for sale.

“I don’t paint them with the objective of selling them. I am connected to them. I put a lot of myself into them. I have an anxiety with sharing it with other people,” Thompson said. “I think it keeps me happy. It’s my own fulfillment and it’s what makes me feel whole.”

However, Thompson has displayed a lot of her work inside two local businesses, including Beaner’s Central Concert Coffeehouse and Sir Benedict’s Tavern in Duluth.

Jason Wussow is the owner of Beaner’s Central, where local artists are welcome to display their work on the colorful walls and pillars that illuminate the interior of the building.

“Every time we bring in a new show, the whole room changes, including the colors on the walls. It brings a new culture to the place,” Wussow said. “We are all about opening thought and expanding horizons.”

Thompson focuses on what is happening in her life and allows people to inspire her work.

“I really like to get into using my own photography. Taking my own pictures and using my own pictures in my paintings,” Thompson said. “I think it brings a lot more value and meaning into the paintings for me. It probably shows through the work too.”

Life as an artist can be difficult. After years of hard work and persistence, art it is still something that Thompson questions.

“Sometimes it makes sense to me. I know it’s something that I need to do, but a lot of times I always question that I could be doing a lot of other things with my time,” Thompson said.  “Why do I choose this? I think it’s an inter-struggle.  Hopefully I don’t lose it. I don’t want to lose it again. I don’t want to stop painting.”

Thompson will be displaying her work at “The Art Show” inside the Washington Gallery on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. from March 10-25.

To learn more about Kelly, check out this week's LakeCast.


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