How one artist turned darkness into light

Graduating Senior and Fine Arts Student KaiylaThompson standing next to her tree piece titled “Life’s Funk Bloomed Infinity”  Thursday evening in the Foster-Tanner Fine Arts Gallery.
Photo submitted by Alexis Gollman

The bright and vivid colored artwork currently adorning the downstairs walls of the Foster Tanner Fine-Arts Gallery wasn’t always so bright and vivid for graduating senior and fine arts major Kaiyla Thompson.

Her evolution into the artist she is today was one based in faith.  

Thursday evening Thompson stood tall next to her “In God’s Name” series as part of the “Visions: Graduating Senior Exhibition.”

Thompson, who considers herself to be an abstract expressionist artist who works primarily in mixed-media, chose to title her exhibit “In God’s Name” because she wanted her art to relate to everybody through intertwining a myriad of religious and cultural symbols with elements of Biblical scripture.

“I’m really referring to how there is so many different religions and how other people have different backgrounds; however, I believe in God I believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, but I want it to be able to touch everybody,” said Thompson. “Because whether you believe in God or not he is all things.”

Thompson used the Kabbalah in one of her pieces, which is from Jewish tradition. She also used the Fibonacci sequence and the yin and yang symbol, which is associated with the Chinese culture in her mixed-media and hard-edge styled artwork.

Thompson, who is from Raleigh N.C., by way of Orlando, opened her series presentation with a self-reflective poem—in true FAMU Voices Poetry fashion, as she is a member.

In this poem, she revealed some of the darkest points in her life: having suicidal thoughts and self-harming. However, her saving grace has always been her faith in God, and this is apparent in her artwork.

“Knowing her path and everything she’s been through and portraying it on a canvas is dope, I’m beyond proud — I tell her that every day,” said Kendrick Smith, Thompson’s boyfriend.

Thompson resembled a beam of light that is reflecting through a prism in her primary colored ensemble —which coordinated with her artwork — as she was presenting her artwork.

“I chose to use primary colors because when you’re born you learn about shapes and colors (first), you learn about primary colors and that’s what we're rooted in that’s our foundation,” said Thompson.

During Thompson’s presentation, there was no shortage of support for her. Her loved ones were in awe as they viewed her art and saw Thompson in her element.

“I think it’s amazing, it definitely shows where she’s come from since freshman year, she has definitely evolved in her craft,” said Laura Griffin, Thompson’s friend who was in attendance. “She stuck to her guns as far as being mixed media and like not being inside the box that she said people put her in.”

Smith appeared to be at a loss for words as he tried to explain how proud he was of his girlfriend.

“The entire exhibit is, I’ve never been to an art show, so the entire exhibit is just mind-blowing,” said Smith.

A fan favorite seemed to be Thompson’s tree piece titled “Life’s Funk Bloomed Infinity.” The title appeared to be an ode to her artist name InfiniteK and it is her interpretation of the Tree of Life from the Bible.

The tree is Thompson’s first installation piece (a 3-D mixed-media construction) composed of chicken wire, a hollow tube with wood paneling, paper bags, twine, flowers and building blocks. Also, like all her other pieces in the “In God’s Name” series, it includes primary colors each one representing the different forms of God in Christian theology.

“The tree is all about growth and my five years of college have been about constant growth just trying to get better,” said Thompson

Thompson also said the tree represents positivity, everlasting life, health, and the biblical scripture John 15 where it says Jesus is the true grapevine.

“I would have to say that my favorite piece is her tree, the fact that she went and constructed that out of so many things — I mean you can tell that blood sweat and tears was put into that — she really outdid herself,” said Griffin.

“I’ve seen a lot of her artwork and basically this is some of her top art, Especially the tree,” said Smith. “The tree, it started from a brown tube and a wooden palette and it became something so beautiful as (this).”  

Thompson’s ultimate hopes for her “In God’s Name” series is for it to resonate with people beyond just the aesthetic level.

“I feel like the hardest part of being an artist is reaching out to someone, whoever that person may be, but as long as it touches one person I feel accomplished because now that person no longer feels like they’re the only one in this world that feels that way,” said Thompson.

The Foster-Tanner Fine Arts Gallery’s “Visions: Graduating Senior Exhibition” will be shown until May 3.