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Former Ad Man Celebrates 10 Years of Art in Uptown With July Showcase

By Mina Bloom | April 29, 2015 5:54am

UPTOWN — Even though Lowell Thompson stopped working in advertising years ago, he continues to spread messages — but now it's through art.

Thompson, who is also an author and activist, hopes to encourage people to celebrate diversity with his upcoming artist's retrospective titled "Down in Uptown: My 10 Years in Chicago's Most Colorful Community."

Lowell Thompson and one of his paintings. (DNAinfo/Mina Bloom)

"My ability to come up with slogans ... now I'm using that to sell something of value: the diversity of human beings," said the former ad man of his upcoming showcase.

During July, Thompson's paintings and photographs depicting different people and scenes in Uptown will be on display at the Uptown Arts Center on the fourth floor of the Preston Bradley Center, 941 W. Lawrence Ave. He will also host conversations about race.

Thompson, 67, grew up on the South Side in Bronzeville, but has spent the last decade living in Uptown. During that time he felt very inspired by "the scenery and the people."

Paintings that will be on display as part of Thompson's retrospective. (DNAinfo/Mina Bloom)

"This is the most diverse neighborhood, and not just in terms of race," he said. "In terms of income levels and ability. It's the most interesting visually, too. You have all of these old former grand hotels, movie palaces, ballrooms."

He added: "That's what these paintings are about." At least 50 paintings of everyday people in Uptown will be on display.

Before he started painting in 2000, he worked primarily for advertising agencies in a creative capacity.

"I was one of the first African-Americans hired at the big time ad agencies," said Thompson, who has worked everywhere from FCB Draft back when it was known as Foote, Cone & Belding to Young and Rubicam.

From 1968 to 1980, Thompson worked at seven different agencies. It wasn't until much later, in 1993, when he discovered that the ad world "was going backwards in terms of hiring African-Americans," he said.

"I started getting the impression that they had already done their part in civil rights," he said. When I went to the ad agencies to freelance, they were whiter than when I got in. The receptionist would look at me like 'Why are you here?'"

From then on, Thompson worked as an activist, authoring books such as "RaceMan Answers," which was featured in the Tribune, and "African Americans in Chicago," among others. He also wrote a column for The Huffington Post. He now calls himself "RaceMan" because of his dedication to educating others about racial issues.

"My general mission is to say somebody's value should not be determined by their net worth," Thompson said.

Through his paintings, photographs, books and various talks, Thompson hopes people will "see the beauty of different permutations in human beings."

For more information on the July showcase, email Thompson at lowellt@hotmail.com.

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