By day, he’s a security officer who tells you to take your shoes off at the airport. By night, an artist.
Michael Thomas, 57, of Oak Park, has spent the past five months painting and preparing for his debut exhibit, “Psalm 30 Illustrated: Watercolors by Michael Thomas,” which opens on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Forest Park Baptist Church, 133 Harlem Ave.
The exhibit features 12 small watercolors that illustrate Psalm 30 of the King James Bible, as well as another larger painting, “Proverbial,” an oil that is four feet tall, two feet wide and illustrates pithy biblical proverbs.
Thomas will give a talk on the exhibit at 6:30 p.m. that night, and his watercolors will be on display for a month. The event is free to attend.
“It’s to bring proverbs, bring the wisdom of the Bible to life, and it does definitely pertain to the life we live now,” he said. “I think bringing the wisdom of the Bible to everyone who comes to it, accepts what Christ has expressed, it fortifies you, gives you inner strength, gives you a way to live life. It also gives you a written morality.”
He added: “People need more than ever to decide what is right and wrong. Look at the #metoo movement, we know these things are wrong, and I think if people respond to this morality, I think you would see less of that. There would be a respect for other people.”
Thomas describes his art as a fusion between romantic artist William Blake—”He used the ideal Greek human form and he gave it energy and expression,” Thomas said—Russian painter Marc Chagall, whose art has a folksy-storybook quality; and Salvador Dali, the American surrealist famous for painting dripping clocks.
He said he chose to illustrate Psalm 30 because it beautifully depicts the inner life of a saved Christian. One verse of Psalm 30 reads, “I will exalt you, Lord,/ for you lifted me out of the depths/ and did not let my enemies gloat over me.”
Thomas earned a master’s in fine art from the University of Wisconsin- Madison, although his fascination with religious painting started at a much younger age. Around age 12, he started making his own paintings on pieces of cardboard. His mom later bought him a membership to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was transfixed by the work of Arthur Dove, who is often considered the first American abstract painter. In high school, Thomas received an “A” in art class, after fusing two big pieces of cardboard together and painting a giant resurrection.
Thomas was raised Catholic, although he later became disillusioned with the faith, saying there was too much ritual and not enough reflection. He left the church in his teens. In college, at Northern Illinois University, he met his future wife Judy, who told him about the Baptist faith. He started studying it realized, ‘Wow, this is something that’s clear, God has a path.’ Thomas converted and his art took on a reverential tone.
After school he moved to Chicago, and worked first in desktop publishing and later went to a print house. As print business declined, Thomas got a job at the transportation security administration, all the while focusing on raising his family but remembering his passion for art. “Psalm 30 Illustrated” represents his return to the art world.
“My focus was on my family during these last 30 years,” Thomas said. “Now I think this art is a way to talk to people and I finally have the time and resources to do it.”