Dallas Thomas was a sports fan even in the womb. In 1983, the Baltimore Orioles—what would become Thomas’ favorite team—won the World Series.
“That’s Uncle Eddie,” he says as we walk through Coworx last Sunday in preparation for his upcoming art show, “Beer Flavored,” which opens Friday night. “He played for the Orioles that year. He was a switch hitter that hit 500 homers—so, he’s family to me,” Thomas continues. “Also, everyone needs an Uncle Eddie.”
Thomas isn’t just talking about sports for the sake of it; he is referring to one of nine canvases showcasing his favorite athletes in action. There is Edson Arantes do Nascimento—or “Pelé”—known as one of the best soccer players ever for Brazil. He is side kicking a soccer ball in Thomas’ painting.
“Look at the movement,” the artist notes. “That beautiful athleticism. It’s incredible. He won the World Cup three times.” The painting is marked by three stars at the foot of the piece.
There is David Robinson, “The Admiral,” who played for the San Antonio Spurs. He’s one of five in recent history who hit a quadruple double.
“This was a screen grab when they pulled him out of the game,” Thomas remarks of the image he sketched. Some of Thomas’ works have words and numbers on them. “These are his stats.” Thomas points to: “34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 blocks.”
“That shit’s crazy!” He does not mince words. “This says ‘better than Ice Cube’ because Ice Cube talks about having a good day, making a triple double. But this guy had a quadruple double!”
“So you’re blending your love for hip hop, too?” I note.
“Yeah, I’m blending everything I love in this show: sports, beer, hot dogs, and flamingos.” Even his favorite taco order from Los Portales, where one may very well catch Thomas during soccer season, can be seen behind his illustration of Diego Maradona. The nefarious player scored a handball goal and should have been red-carded but wasn’t. Argentina went on to win the 1986 World Cup because of it.
“They didn’t have an instant replay then,” Thomas says. “So they couldn’t look at it. There was a goal scored afterward were he completely dominated all defenders. I mean, it looked like something from another planet.”
Thomas has been drawing for about as long as he’s loved sports. His grandmother and aunt were art teachers, and handed him paper and drawing utensils upon his visits to their home. Though he played basketball and baseball in school, and was even accepted to play in college, he realized the dedication wasn’t there.
“Those guys eat, sleep and study their sport,” Thomas admits. “And I was just screwing around and going to practice.”
However, it didn’t deter his love for the game, as seen in his homage to figures like Bo Jackson, Larry Johnson and Dominique Wilkins. Aside from nine canvases showing athletes, in colors Thomas notes “are beautiful but aren’t used all the time”—like a muddy or grey pink, neon salmon and brown mustard—10 prints feature doodles of hot dogs drinking beer, flamingos eating beer cans and beer cans playing basketball. It all makes up Thomas’ theme, “Beer Flavored.”
“Sport games aren’t watched without beers, hot dogs aren’t eaten’ without beers and flamingos like to party,” Thomas says with a smirk and without second thought. “I can just tell.”
“Beer Flavored” is light-hearted and may even seem like a “bro show” at the onset. I mention as much upon our discussions of athletes. “Yeah, maybe it is,” Thomas agrees while sipping IPA—“the antithesis to just another watercolor flower hanging in a gallery. Really, it’s about having fun. This isn’t high-brow art; it’s not supposed to be.”
The multi-media “Beer Flavored” comes to life via acrylic, graphite, oil stick, and charcoal. The paintings look like first-drafts seen in a sketch pad. Thomas says it’s the response to not planning what the outcome of a painting is going to be. In some ways, the unfinished look is the opposite of Thomas’ solo show at CFCC’s Wilma Daniels Gallery a few years ago. Then he was working on six-foot abstract oil paintings which featured human legs peeking from balls of feathers. Rather than continue on the same path—the show was regarded highly by locals and art enthusiasts alike—he went back to what inspired him long ago.
“It’s like turning back the clock in high school, when I wouldn’t pay attention in class and instead draw something funny to get someone’s attention, and it would make them laugh,” he explains. “That’s sort of the same thing with ‘Beer Flavored.’”
Thomas’ doodles can be seen in all sorts of variations since he has been drawing them over the past five or so years. He just hung one in Aluna Works last week: a beer can farming to match the theme of the show, “Harvest.” “Also, I can’t mow my grass without a beer,” the city farmer quips. “Lawnmowers don’t start without beers, I’m pretty sure.”
Thomas starts his doodle process by painting color on paper and then printing the doodle on top—it’s rather simple. He has began using acrylic, something he hasn’t worked with since taking classes and graduating from UNC Charlotte with a studio art degree. After college, he was a middle school art teacher and soccer coach in Salisbury, NC. When he reconnected with an old high-school flame, Alisha (who runs local handmade leather goods brand Ruby Assata), it changed his career path.
“I knew there was something special happening between us, and she said she was moving back to Wilmington, and I was like, ’Well, I’m resigning and moving, too,’” he explains. Since then, the two have married. They even upstarted a T-shirt company, Pearface, which features Thomas’ doodles.
Many of Pearface images were inspired by Alisha—specifically her love of poodles or notes he left for her, like one that expresses “no need to worry.” “My wife also loves flamingos,” he tells—another nod to the show being all about what Thomas loves.
Though he hasn’t returned to the classroom, he is following his passion in design and art full time. Thomas currently is working as a graphic designer for a TV series being shot locally and hopes to get into commercial design work and licensing illustrations once the show wraps.
“I thought I was going to continue teaching,” he resolves, “because I think education is the most important thing, but it is tough. I think I’m an OK mentor, but I’m not a patient person. And middle school tries your patience; I’m not built for it.”
But beer and sports, well, that’s a different story.
“Beer Flavored” will feature Thomas’ favorite beers on tap from Waterline with wine from Mon Âme Chocolate & Wine Bar. A reel of famed dunk contests will be projected, and tunes will be spinning from Karl Richardson and Matt Keen. Folks can tag the “artainer” in the Cargo District as well. One original piece will be raffled off, with proceeds benefitting Southern Poverty Law Center.