William Paul Thomas

January 6 – March 18, 2019

William Paul Thomas is a painter, photographer, and videographer based in Durham whose focus as a visual artist is making images that correspond directly to the people and experiences closest to him.


William Paul Thomas is a painter, photographer, and videographer who creates pictures as a way to capsulize his broad, ongoing exploration of the human condition. He chooses specific models as a way of recognizing their significance in his life’s path, often drawing on his immediate social network to offer complex representations of people of color. He integrates text and other symbols into the portrait work to narrow the subject matter and complicate the viewer’s understanding of the subject’s identity.

A 2016 Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant helped fund the production of Thomas’s multimedia portrait project Mood Swings, three paintings of which were included in the exhibition RACE: Are We So Different exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. That same year, he was the Durham Art Guild’s Artist in Residence at Golden Belt Artist Studios and he had a #PPGArtists residency at Duke’s Power Plant Gallery.

Thomas was the Brock Family Visiting Instructor in Studio Arts at Duke during the 2017-18 academic year. He received his B.F.A. in Studio Art from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and his M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

During his residency, Thomas will be working on a number of ongoing projects in painting and video. Among them, his series of portraits of African American men whose faces are rendered partly in blue—a reference to a condition known as cyanosis, in which improperly oxygenated blood causes blueness of the skin. This characteristic of Thomas’s work operates as a metaphor for the disenfranchisement imposed upon black people within a system of white supremacy. This work will be one of the topics of his Ruby Friday talk on February 22.