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Jimi Thompson: Riot starter

The artist known as Dammit Wesley works to make portraits more colorful

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Jimi Thompon, better known around town as Dammit Wesley, brings new meaning to the term "starving artist." In college, he used pizza boxes as canvasses because he was a broke student. Luckily, he found endless resources at Papa John's. "You could use your meal plan to get pizzas, so I had access to a lot of pizza boxes in my apartment. Plus, they were easy to frame. You put a tack in and push it into the wall and boom!" says Thompson. He's also repurposed shoes, desks, tables and other objects for art.

These days, Thompson, 28, sticks to painting on canvas. He teaches art classes — he's taught at the Boys and Girls Club and is also offering non-traditional classes for adults with live models at Dupp&Swat — and regularly can be found live painting at clubs and special events around town. In his work, he focuses on the need for racial equality by elevating images of minorities. In this day and age, that's worth paying attention to.

"My job is to put black and brown faces in white places," Thompson says. "Brown cultures all over, we kind of suffer from an issue of image and I base that solely on the art community. With the Renaissance being viewed as the pinnacle of all art, you're very limited to the faces that you see, so that limits the appreciation you have for certain cultures. I want to put cultural relevance on black and brown people, not to depreciate the value of Caucasians, but just to show that we have the same value."

Thompson is the founder of Think Color, a branding site used to display his work, from paintings and graphic designs to videos and T-shirts. The idea for the name was inspired by his staple usage of bright colors and bold brush strokes. These elements make his urban portraits pop.

In light of the riots in Ferguson and ongoing racial unrest, Thompson has also created an arts collective called Riot Chic. Acting in a director's position, he is seeking photographers to document black image in relation to riots and fashion.

"[Riot Chic] reflects a culture of Americans that are emulated for their style and persecuted for it at the same time. Blacks have the ability to make products and trends 'cool' but are perceived as a threat in public, dependent on what wardrobe they left the house in," says Thompson. "Riot Chic expresses the dichotomy of being a minority in America, a trendsetter and a troublemaker. It will be released as a book after we resume shooting in the spring."

Long before Thompson decided to pursue art full time, he was already using it to get his message across. "When I was younger, I had a stutter. I could not talk. I couldn't ask for milk, cookies or whatever it was. So, when I got to kindergarten, they just kept giving me pencils and markers. It was easier for me to draw out what I needed versus me telling people what I needed because it got frustrating."

His current message championing equal representation of all people is loud and clear.

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