Paint It Unwhite | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Paint It Unwhite



I guess I should be happy the Reader decided to finally cover (at least tangentially) my art career, even if it took four years to do it [The Business, November 10]. Better late than never, they say. At least Ms. Isaacs got my name and most of the facts right.

She also got a remarkable amount of my bio in very little space. Too bad her editor hid her good work behind a facile headline, "Paint It Black."

I admit I didn't get the reference to an old Rolling Stones tune until somebody mentioned it. I'm more of a Bob Dylan, Chi-Lites, Bill Withers fan.

But though I now understand the lure of the obvious play on words, I must still register my frustration. Maybe it's the adman and writer in me, but I think the headline, though catchy, is the exact opposite of what the article and my efforts are about. If it had been submitted to me by a writer in my group in an ad agency, I would have said, "It's clever but it's off-strategy."

I don't want to paint the Chicago downtown art world black. I want to finally paint it in full color.

I believe one of the reasons the contemporary fine art world in general and American art in particular is so ignored by most Americans is because much of it is so incestuously, monolithically white, male, Eurocentric, and bland. Kinda like baseball and basketball before Robinson and Russell.

African-American artists are largely still confined to the Negro Leagues of Art.

And this is not only in major museums and galleries. Although I recently sold two small paintings to Deloitte & Touche, the giant accounting/consulting firm, most corporate art collections have only token representation of "un-white" artists. I recently visited one of Chicago's biggest law firms, whose offices are filled with art. I looked in vain for work by Black or Hispanic artists. This "artpartheid" artificially lowers the future value of the collections of collectors, black, white, and other, who support artists of color. While paintings by Picasso and Pollock are breaking auction records of $140 million plus, few works by African-American artists have ever even cracked the $100,000 mark.

Remember, when Pollock, de Kooning, et al moved the center of the art world from Europe to New York in the late 40s and 50s it was still 1950s America.

My goal is to open American art to the Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, Gay, disabled, etc, country we live in today.

But besides the headline, I write here not so much as a complaint but as an addendum. There are also a few more things that didn't make the editor's cut that Reader readers might want to know:

1. I've got over 30 of my "Chicago fer Real" paintings on display in the Chicago Artists' Open Studio at State and Lake until the end of November.

2. There are two other artists in the Open Studio with me. I invited Dale Washington and Alicia Lee to exhibit their paintings.

3. One out of every three collectors who've bought my work aren't "Black." There are more and more "white" Americans who can see beyond their skin.

Lowell Thompson

BTW: The address is 179, not 177 N. State.

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