Columbus artist puts unique style to work telling others' stories

Marc Thomas has had mentors.

Among them was Columbus legend and internationally known artist Benjamin Crumpler, who taught a young and earnest Thomas to leave the interpretation of artwork to the viewer.

“If I had work in a show and I saw someone looking at it, I would go right over and start telling them about it, about my other work,” Thomas said. “[Crumpler] said, ‘You have some good work and I'll help you, but you have to leave some [space] for other people to come to their own conclusions.'”

Another mentor was his AP art teacher at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School, Teresa Weidenbusch, who encouraged Thomas to pursue his own style, his own voice.

“Marc was a gifted student. He came in [to class] and stood out. He had the beginnings of a style, and I pushed him a little bit to move beyond,” Weidenbusch said.

“She really pushed the individuality, gave free rein to our creativity,” Thomas said.

Weidenbusch also introduced Thomas to Harlem Renaissance-era artist Jacob Lawrence, whose work made a profound impact. “I had a foundation, but seeing [Lawrence's] work really inspired me to see the kind of expression an artist could have,” Thomas said.

Thomas and Weidenbusch had a reunion, of sorts, for the current “Concentration 11: An Annual Fort Hayes Arts & Academic High School AP Art Exhibition” at Sean Christopher Gallery in the Short North. This year, for the first time, Weidenbusch included the work of alumni artists in the show, including work by Thomas, a 1994 Fort Hayes graduate.

“A wonderful thing about Facebook is that I can keep track of a lot of former students, see what they're doing. I'm pretty excited at the level of work [Thomas is] doing now,” Weidenbusch said.

Thomas describes his work as urban abstract expressionism. Primarily large in size, the pieces are almost always on wood. “When you're in a time when you don't have access to materials, you'll paint on anything,” Thomas said. “I painted a Tupperware lid. I started on wood when I found cutting boards in a thrift shop.” On these surfaces, the artist applies his distinctive bright colors and bold lines to portraits and slice-of-life scenes.

“I saw it all,” said Thomas, who grew up off Livingston Avenue on Columbus' East Side. “Art was my therapy, my escape. And I did lots of political art when I was younger. All my work was in that vein. I decided I wanted to do other things. I also decided I wanted to get outside of my box. Yes, I grew up surrounded by black folks, and I have an inspiration in a painter from the Harlem Renaissance, but I want to be diverse.”

Thomas wanted to tell stories. And, borrowing his advice from Benjamin Crumpler, he wanted the art to do the telling, not the artist. So he pays attention, making sure he takes his time in understanding a subject, be it personal or social.

“Authenticity is really important in this day and age. I want to tell an authentic, accurate story. What someone's story makes me feel, I'm transferring that into the painting. If it's genuine, it's going to come out,” Thomas said.

Thomas' commitment to uplift others through his art is similarly genuine. He has taught workshops for local youths, made art in support of Advanced Recovery Services, a Downtown addiction treatment center, and launched Strokes for Life, in which he does paintings for individuals dealing with trauma and their families. One of Thomas' most recent works was for NBC4 news anchor Mike Jackson, who is recovering from a stroke.

“Cancer, suicide, PTSD, grief, just whatever kind of difficult situation people might be battling. There are a lot of people dealing with these issues, and art is something tangible that uplifts and encourages, and that helps people tell their own story,” Thomas said. “It's not me telling their story, but them having something that maybe helps them share what they're going through.

“I believe art heals. Art starts people talking, and when people talk, things get released and healing can begin.”

In this way, Thomas is paying back not only the mentors who helped show him the way, but paying it forward into the community with his art.

“That's the kind of person he's always been,” Weidenbusch said. “He's a good soul.”

“I am a firm believer that God has given us gifts and we have to use our gifts for a better purpose, and that some of that purpose is giving back to people, to the community,” Thomas said.