Khalif Thompson – A look Inside 

By Whitney B. Carnes

Khalif Thompson is a 24-year-old American artist based out of New York City. He was born in Canarsie, Brooklyn on September 25, 1995. His works consist of large scale paper mosaic collages with figures painted with oil paint layered with handmade and found materials.

Thompson’s early childhood consisted of being raised in a stable Baptist home in the Glenwood Houses in the NYC Housing Authority.  He comes from a large artistic family totaling 5 children and 2 adults. His father, Pernelle Jones, worked as a handyman and maintenance supervisor and his mother, Stephanie Thompson, was a stay at home mom.  Even though his parents were married, Khalif ended up using his mother’s last name due to a hyphenation.

Norma Jean by Khalif Thompson, 2020

Khalif has two brothers, both older, and two sisters, one the eldest sibling and the other his fraternal twin. Both his brothers, Tariq and Kareem, attended Brooklyn HighSchool of the Arts and majored in Fine Art. His brothers’ involvement with art served as early exposure for Khalif. While his brothers indulged in figure drawings and portraiture, Khalif’s eldest sister’s, Asia, artistic disposition revolved around performing arts such as singing, modeling, and yoga while his twin sister, Kaimani, is an astute reader and creative writer of poems and short stories. 

As Khalif grew up he began to appreciate his community and the people in it but his home life was where he and his siblings nurtured their creative natures, and thrived in them. His mother was essential in this process, she would produce makeshift workshops and have the children participate in a plethora of activities and classes.  When Khalif was 11 years old his father tragically passed of colon cancer. Today, Parnelle’s lessons and memory still serves as a guiding light for Khalif’s art, and his individuality. Khalif remembers his father as an extremely supportive figure in his childhood, he supported his love of art tremendously. When asked, his mother was described as a wild eccentric. She possessed multiple talents and interests that were as eclectic as they were insightful, especially to her loved ones. Stephanie encouraged her children to taste from a versatile palette of life; she studied Reiki, palmistry and a plethora of other spiritual and academic topics. Transitioning after his father passing was rough on the family.

Hakeem and Renaissance, 2018, Khalif Thompson

When Khalif was 16 years old, he and his family were evicted from their apartment in Glenwood Houses and found themselves in the system. They lived in a homeless shelter for three months that summer before returning to some level of normalcy. This pivotal experience helps bring clarity and rawness to Khalif’s work today. Experiences like this and others helped guide Khalif closer to art as a form of personal therapy and expression. 

In 2017 Khalif traveled to India for five weeks; his travels contributed remarkably to the diversity of his pieces. India was his first trip abroad and therefore very special to him. While in India he embraced the “culture of calm” and met the Dalai Lama. Now that he’s back in the states he pulls from his time in India to drive his atmospheric themes of figurative life home in his work. Thompson aspires to live abroad again in the future, this time in Southern France. He has always been enamored with French culture and while traveling there felt he and the environment gelled perfectly. 

“Twins” by Khalif Thompson

The paralleled importance of acceptance began to become a common theme in Khalif’s life. As he accepted his own feelings and experiences as they were laid out to him, he also accepted his talent and the calling on him to share those experiences with the world. Thompson identifies a queer, flamboyant individual. Some may even say gender fluid.  Unfortunately, nurturing this was stifled from an early age, due in part to the negative social stigmas perpetrated within the black family and community. 

In India one of the most popular religions is Buddhism. The four principals of Buddhism are:

 The truth of suffering (Dukkha) – that life is suffering.

 The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya) – we suffer because of the things we want. 

The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha) – that the path to eliminating suffering is to liberate oneself from attachment

The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga)  – that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. 

Each principle requires active acceptance to maintain the liberation from attachment. Interestingly, the lack of acceptance Khalif received growing up allowed for a wider space for him to accept himself and others.  It seemed almost all too fitting that his first trip abroad was spent in India conjuring this very technique. 

Thompson, Khalif, (Teddy)

“Teddy” by Khalif Thompson

Khalif had this to say when asked about the importance of acceptance within the black community: “It is crucial in our community to be expressly ourselves as that is what makes us so unique and interesting. We must encourage identity acceptance and nurture what comes naturally to us, taking it as a blessing.”

In 2018 Khalif graduated from Purchase College with a BA in Fine Arts and began his Fine Arts career. He quickly sold his first piece, a painting of Lenny Kravitz. He sold it to a man on the street for $70. He has since been widely recognized by the art world. Khalif can be found today working in his studio in New York. On average it takes him about 3 months to finish each piece. A lot goes into his process, he touches everything he uses multiple times, charging the materials with his energy. Khalif tends to paint people he knows such as family members, friends and loved ones and he uniquely includes elemental indexes taken from their life experiences (i.e., notes, journal entries, etc.) Thompson examines subjects that are personal to him and foster their presence through his work.

Khalif typically starts with the formation of an abstract environment, then he layers the surface with handmade or found material and begins a variety of mark-making techniques. After drafting a space he renders and paints the figures.

 In 2020 Khalif was awarded the Brooklyn Arts Council grant as well as announcing his exclusive representation with Black Art in America LLC. An art syndication that buys, sells and promotes artists of African American diaspora worldwide. 

Like many artists, Khalif considers his work his purest space of sanctity and his greatest gift and asset. Thompson’s work represents his sheer will, the culmination and knowledge of his experiences, the acceptance of his emotions, his questioning of topics in the world, and his clarity to persevere. So if you have the honor of being in the same room as a Khalif Thompson piece, know that you are purchasing a piece of his experience. 

I want to see my work touch people deeply, have them experience something humane and honest, compelling individuals to investigate themselves and their own unique identity.” -Khalif Thompson 

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Whitney B. Carnes is an American multi disciplinary artist and writer based out of Atlanta, GA. Whitney attended FIDM in Los Angeles, California and studied Fashion Merchandising and Product Development. After living in California, she returned home and graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in Studio Art.
She is the great niece of civil rights icon Rosa Louise “McCauley” Parks, close friends and family know her as “Bianca”.

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