Pictured Above: “When you paint with color, it’s almost like you are writing a piece of music.” Thomas takes a break in his Argenta studio.


In the 1980s a young Barry Thomas moved to Los Angeles, pivoting away from his college football days and sprinting full-force in the direction of his artistic dreams. With an insatiable desire to create, and a formal college education he decided to take his lessons learned in athletics and translate them in his new adventure.


Born in Arkansas, Thomas grew up in Pensacola, Fla. and San Francisco, as his father moved the family to wherever he was stationed in the United States Navy. When he was in high school, Thomas first found his way back to The Natural State, where he later received a football scholarship to play at the University of Arkansas.

“I don’t paint what something looks like, I paint what it feels like.” Thomas and his tools.

Playing under Head Coach Lou Holtz, and throughout his life as an athlete prior to his collegiate career, Thomas was taught tangible life skills that led him to success both on and off the field. Values of discipline, sacrifice, hard work and overcoming adversity have all been important in Thomas’ life, both in football and in pursuing his career as an impressionist painter.

Thomas never simply stumbled onto opportunity, but worked tirelessly to create the opportunities he wanted for himself. After graduating from the U of A, he attended The ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Ca., where he had a self-described insatiable desire to learn about art, studying the greats of every discipline for hours on end.


“Athletics taught me a lot of discipline and character, it taught me that you have to work hard to get to what you want to achieve,” Thomas said. “It also taught me that you fail a lot. You get knocked down and you face adversity often, and when you have no one helping you, you get tested.”


Thomas said he equates art to football because both of the activities require character attributes such as endurance and accountability to oneself, above anything else.

Barry Thomas

Finished works line the walls of Thomas’ studio gallery.

“I use the same skills I needed to be a good football player in order to also make it in my career. Those skills are confidence, having a positive attitude, discipline, character, dedication and really, above all, integrity to my craft,” Thomas said.


While he uses all the skills he has learned throughout life to achieve his personal and professional success, Thomas said he believes discipline has been the most important thing. While discipline may seem restrictive upon first glance, he said it is the very thing that has allowed him to live freely.


“I still get up at 3:30 a.m. every day to prioritize, read and work out,” Thomas said. “I live my life in a way that allows me to be able to prioritize family time, friendships and time to do nothing. When I was younger, it made it possible for me to coach all of my girls’ basketball teams and allowed me to give back to the community.”

Landscpe or portrait, Thomas’ themes reflect the locations and people around him.

Resilience was essential for Thomas to survive his early days as an aspiring artist, which were at times romantic and at other times incredibly difficult.


“I was young, but I was very determined to become an artist. No one I knew at the time made a living from being an artist,” Thomas said. “My dad was a doctor and was not very confident at the time of my ability. I think he thought that I was going to starve to death while trying to achieve my goals.


“I was so enthusiastic and so passionate about it that I sought out every opportunity possible to train with the best.”


Determined to reach every goal he had set for himself and to achieve every dream in his heart, Thomas overcame sleeping in his car, renting an apartment in a rundown area and sacrificing his rent money for art books. His desire to learn paid off, propelling him into a life of bliss.


“My rent money definitely went toward buying books, and I remember living off of a $7 turkey most weeks and depending heavily on buying beans and tortillas,” Thomas said. “When my mother came to visit me she was absolutely terrified of where I was living. She kept asking me ‘Why do you live here?’ so I took her to the art bookstore and showed her all of the boxes of books I put on layaway. She ended up paying the bill for it all and I was so grateful.”

With ample inspiration from central Arkansas, Thomas’ work is prodigious.

Thomas spent many of those years staying up all night studying art and practicing his craft. With a healthy fear of failure, he was desperate to learn and committed to himself.


“I stayed up studying because of two things: I was scared I was going to fail and I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to make a living at this,” Thomas said.


After receiving his formal art education, Thomas was a background painter for film and animation. His work in this sector eventually led him in becoming an acclaimed illustrator and commercial artist, for which he has won awards, including being chosen for the Society of Illustrators Hallmark Award.


From a young age, Thomas recalled being interested in art, although no one in his life had influenced him to become an artist growing up. Thomas holds the human experience in high regard and finds connectivity to be an important part of his work.


“I think I got a lot of my passion for the arts from looking at books and walking into museums. There is such a connection with art to nature and self-expression,” Thomas said. “To me, viewing paintings was very similar to reading the words of poets such as Walt Whitman. These writers got to live a life in which they wrote about things that they personally dreamed and experienced, and because of that, they are still living.”


Prior to moving back to The Natural State year-round, Thomas lived and worked in Salida, Co., where he focused on the beauty of the natural world. He painted rock formations, mountains and wildlife, focusing on the memory of the moment. The same concepts are still visible in Thomas’ work today.


“I’m incredibly passionate about my art, and I really draw inspiration from wherever I am. I think it’s important to remind people through my work that grandiose happens in the small moments of life,” Thomas said.

Barry Thomas

Works both finished and nearly so mingle with random bits of inspiration throughout the studio.

“In portraiture I do the same thing. I use live models a lot for portraits and even though they might just be sitting there, I am painting based off of the personal relationships we are creating. Life comes to the portraits from that connection.”


Impressionism is all about not painting a reflection of life as we know it, but describing life through the artist’s eyes, which is why Thomas has been so drawn to the 19th century art style. Classically trained, Thomas ensures his work carries integrity while also making sure that he is present with the subject, pouring his emotions into palpable art.


“When you paint with color, it’s almost like you are writing a piece of music,” he said. “Painting is really similar to the symphony, as the goal of musicians and painters is one and the same. I don’t paint what something looks like, I paint what it feels like.”

Painting allowed Thomas to explore the world, painting the same locations that great artists painted before him in Europe, as well as painting life in Colorado and New Orleans. Thomas enjoyed the experience, especially his time living in Colorado, but found himself missing the diversity of life in Arkansas, which prompted his decision to move back to the state where he’s spent much of his life.


He said he doesn’t believe he will ever move away from Arkansas again, as living in the Argenta Arts District serves everything he’s ever wanted and needed in a community. Before moving to North Little Rock from Colorado full time, Thomas stayed here part time, living and working in a studio and loft located in an old red brick bakery, built in 1915.


“I realized how much I missed the area, the people and the diversity,” Thomas said. “No other place that I have been to quite has the same texture that central Arkansas has. It’s so centrally located, with rich history, old bridges and buildings, rivers, lakes, mountains and so much more. It is like a palette of opportunities now.


“Today, I am sitting in a nice house, in a studio with everything I could have ever hoped for, and it serves as a purpose of my life, work and study,” he said.


With the desire to paint a multitude of scenes, living in this part of the world has served Thomas well.


“Nowadays, I find myself particularly drawn to painting dirt roads, textured areas, and places that are deeply rooted in history,” Thomas said. “I draw a lot of inspiration from wherever I am and wherever I’ve been. I think it’s important for my work to be able to remind people that the grandiose happens in the seemingly mundane.”


Paintings showcasing the beauty of sunsets in the Delta and moments in nature are some of the things Thomas prides himself in creating, however, he finds equal importance in portraiture, and paints portraits from life as well.


Thomas also currently provides services to the community, offering private lessons, pop-up painting classes and live event paintings, in addition to commissioned pieces.


“Vincent Van Gogh once spoke about leaving Paris and moving to the south of France, because he wanted to be nearer to the people with their hands in the earth because they are closer to God,” Thomas said. “I want to continue to showcase the places where people’s hands are in the earth.” 


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