Interview Series: MAKING — A Conversation with Kim Thomas
Kim Thomas is one of the most prolific makers I know. For over two decades my life has been enriched by meals, poems, songs, books, paintings, and prayers made by Kim. That's just the beginning, though. In every way, Kim is committed to leaving the world a better place than when she first arrived.
Charlie Peacock: Where were you born?
Kim Thomas: Houston, Texas — just long enough to get a birth certificate and then I moved to California, and many other places, due to being a Navy daughter.
CP: How does place — or in your case many places — inform your making today?
KT: I absolutely think that the history of frequent moves, adjusting, new people — all that affects my making today. It takes a lot of courage to be a maker of any kind. It requires many decisions, commitments, and lonely times in your head. The nomadic life built up my courage for new things and change, sort of immunized me to sameness, and made me invite the adventure of mystery and unknown.
CP: So rather than specific places informing you, the nomadic lifestyle became your primary “place” influence as a young person. What about people? Any particular people you point to as imaginative, creative influences — whether you knew them or not?
KT: I was an early reader — I read over 300 books out loud to my mom and sister in first grade. Reading put me in my own head and in the heads of great creatives. Lewis and L'Engle influenced my young soul, and it was not until my 20s that I discovered they were Christians. My granddad on my dad's side was a creator — paint, jewelry, tattoos. The early smell of paint and the wonder of an artist's toolbox were very memorable in building this perceptive girl's personhood. Other key names are Carole King and Simon & Garfunkel — both were intense early musical influences. And then later in my 30s, a movie called Vincent & Theo threw me into my studio with palpable force. I should also mention the teachers throughout my grade school and junior high years that affirmed my creative tendencies and built some courage in me. Thank God for good teachers!
"Potluck Cake Off" by Kim ThomasCP: You named C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle as authors you read as a child, and then later found out were Christians. We’ve been friends for over 20 years and I know you as a professing Christian, too. There are many people who associate themselves in some way with the historical character of Jesus. I’m curious, when you talk about Christians, or say you are one, what exactly do you mean by that? How would you explain it simply?
KT: I think that everyone subconsciously searches for a herd to belong to. With Dad being gone a good deal due to military service, my mom, sister, and I collected with people who felt safe, comfortable, and like family. My earliest memories are of church potlucks and Vacation Bible School — church things. I found a herd before understanding the more formal, intimate realities of faith — such as recognizing that God had pursued me with a great love, which would then become a skein of beliefs woven from people, faith, and Biblical study. I have an unnameable confidence in the words: "In the beginning, God created.” Words which influence and inform everything for me. I understand the questions Who am I? Why am I here? And what does it matter? through the lens of a personal God who sent a personal savior, Jesus, to repair a comprehensive wound in all of creation. So through all this development of belief, I began to settle on answers surrounding the Jesus story that still direct my life today. Unequivocally, I long for God's restored beauty in everything, and I accept the invitation to participate in that work whenever and however I can. That’s a long answer, though. Simply put, belonging preceded believing, which led to new ways of being as a follower of Jesus.
CP: Thank you. Now that we’ve touched on why you make and how it matters, what exactly do you make? I know you make many things — from a mood, to a prayer, to a painting — but what are a few things you would highlight or say you are currently concentrating on?
KT: I’m working on a new series of paintings inspired by graffiti on the marble columns outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Marks, symbols, lines, and images that say “I was here,” and that in some way record life and scar the surface inspire me and bring so many metaphors to mind.
In the other hemisphere of my brain, the writing side of me is working on a series of stories/studies based on themes from the Bible, like “water-walkers” (Peter), “giant-slayers” (David), “river-crossers” (Joshua), “beholders” (John), “cave-sitters” (Elijah), “risk-takers” (Rahab). The narratives are another form of mark-making or graffiti, recording journeys and passages.
And then, ever and always, I’m working on filling my mind and soul and spirit with things that are true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely, in the hopes that my mouth will speak out of what goodness fills my heart — when I lead prayers on Sundays, respond to e-mails, sit over coffee, or speak to my neighbor. That means reading, watching, and hearing, absorbing the stimuli all around.
CP: Tell us about your favorite tools/materials you use in making. And where do you do most of your making — do you have a specific space you work and play in?
KT: I have a little plastic wallpaper paste spreader that I find myself obsessing over, using it in many of my pieces. I also have some brushes and carving tools that were my grandfather’s, and I like to use them when I can. I have his original drafting table with his name burned into the oak surface. It sits on an iron base with wheels. I love to work on that surface. And I love my laptop and the world of words at my fingertips!
CP: As an exercise in self-understanding as a maker, give me five separate, individual words that describe your creative work.
KT: Observational. Minimal. Conceptual. Textural. Narrative.
CP: When you dream of a better planet and culture, what does it look like? And specifically, what is your hope for what you’re making and bringing into the world — how do you imagine it contributing what is good, just, right, or beautiful?
KT: My dream of a better planet and culture? That’s a long dream. I would say more consensus, kindness, beauty restored and celebrated, image-bearers fully bearing that image. My hope for what I’m making is that it would access what is true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely and bear witness to the hope of glory. I hope that anyone contemplating what I make would be moved in some way, perhaps that my narrative would offer them vocabulary for their own. I hope that the places God is redeeming in me would cause me to always be growing and developing, giving glimpses of possibility for generative and regenerative making. Ultimately, I deeply desire to delicately, yet firmly, steward my craft in such a way that my own joy in creating would add to God’s most particular beauty.
Kim Thomas is an artist, author of five books, and the Curate at The Village Chapel in Nashville, Tennessee.