Interview by Keith Waits. Images by Damon Thompson
Entire text copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Damon Thompson’s work can be hard to categorize. He claims to specialize in landscapes and murals but so much of his painting captures the shared iconography of late 20the century popular culture, especially the sudden proliferation of murals in Louisville neighborhoods in the last month. Normally Thompson works at the Habitat Restore, but, like so many others, he became unemployed when the business was forced to close. While art galleries, museums, and theatres are shuttered during the public health crisis Thompson’s response has been to get busy creating new work that can be seen simply by looking out your window.
Can you tell me a little about this burst of murals?
I’m trying to average one icon/ starlet portrait for every day of the pandemic.
Here is how it works.
1. You send me a picture of the exterior wall/fence/trailer/ garage/ intermodal unit, whatever.
2. A 3-5 list of icons or starlets. I’m better at women than men, but men are acceptable. I’ll pick a picture that best fits the architecture, location, and you
3. Optional donations of PayPal or Venmo accepted, but not required. and only after I’m done. I usually spend between $75 to $100 in paint for each job, please don’t break the bank if you do decide to make a donation. And don’t feel bad if you are broke and cannot contribute. You providing a space for art is a huge help.
The list is long, it will be one month before I can get to your place.
One more thing: I don’t go inside houses, and I bring my own water and food. I wipe my hands with sanitary wipes when I get in the van and when I leave. I truly don’t want to get COVID 19 or accidentally spread it. And please stay at least 6 feet away from me.
I’m doing it because I got laid off and I can right now. It really seems to cheer people up
Have you mostly just gotten the word out through social media?
Correct. I also want to mention my process. 1. I do an outline 2. Then a dynamic multi-colored full. 3. Creative re-outlines 4. Dynamic shadows and bright highlights. This formula I learned from graffiti writers. And 99 % of what I know about the use of spray paint I owe to the culture of graffiti ( but what I’m currently doing is spray-can art).
I only mention this because lots of people truly go ape shit when they see a spray can, or someone spray painting a wall. I want it to be clear that graffiti writers are who I look up to, and what this is born out of.
When did you start? What was the first mural in this series?
March 21. I had asked FB if I could practice on someone’s wall. Very few people responded. But Melissa Feliciano said I could paint on her garage door. It’s on a very hidden alley on Ellison Avenue, behind Boss Funeral home. It was Elizabeth Taylor. That post got over a dozen shares and 400 likes in 24 hours. I’ve had endless opportunities since.
So the property owners are just giving you permission. Are some of them paying you as well, or is that through the PR?
At the end the person who had a wall, or location will sometimes give me money. A few times telling me “here I hope this covers the cost for the next one”. I got worried about the possibility of COVID 19 on cash, so now, if people want to offer money I set up a Venmo, and I also use PayPal.
How are you doing? Is it a living?
The simple answer is yes. But, for me, quality and quantity are my measurements for achievement. I’ve always been able to achieve a goal or vision with or without proper funds. The fact that I have just enough to buy my paint and cover my bills for the next three weeks is definitely a bonus.
Have you been able to meet your goal of a mural for each day since March 21? Or have you taken some days off?
I will sometimes do two in one day. I do this at least twice a week. That way, I can account for a rainy day, and I take Sundays off to be with my wife and kids all day.
But I’m not taking any more I have a list of 40 and an alternate/ back up list of 8. That is all I can do for right now. I may start another round in June, but that’s only if I don’t get my job back. I encourage anyone who likes what I am doing to contact someone they may know that knows how to use a spray can, and let them do their thing.
Have you repeated any icon?
I’ve had repeat requests. But no repeats yet. I’m not opposed to doing the same person twice: there are always multiple eras of a life to choose from. I worry more about getting something completely wrong. For instance, I did a Jane Russell the other day, then later found a picture of Judy Garland that looked so much like my painting of Jane that I had to double-check my reference. It was Jane, but t was worried for a moment
Are there any faces you are dying to do but nobody has requested?
Well, I have a few I hold back because I know that the right person/location will present itself. I keep my cards close to my chest with those.
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.