Arts and Culture

Large-scale portraits of famous women have been popping up around the Greater Louisville area since late March – faces of the likes of Maya Angelou, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Frida Kahlo spray painted on the exteriors of homes. 

They are the work of Louisville-born artist Damon Thompson

On Monday, he completed his 40th mural in the series, a portrait of primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall on a garage door in Germantown. Goodall is holding binoculars to the left of her face. There’s an ape in the portrait too, just off of her shoulder. 

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Thompson’s half-finished portrait of Jane Goodall.

Thompson said the garage was a nice canvas.

“It’s got an existing grid because it’s a door with squares all over it,” he said. “So I use that to plot my lines.”

Thompson has been drawing and painting since he was a kid. Lately, he’s been trying to improve his portraiture and spray skills. When he got laid off from his job in March, he found himself with much more free time.

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Damon Thompson creating a mural of Jane Goodall on May 11, 2020.

“I thought this is a perfect opportunity for me to ask people if they have a garage or a wall in their backyard, if I could come paint on it,” he said, adding that he was fortunate that being unemployed for a bit wasn’t a financial strain for his family.

The first one he did was of Elizabeth Taylor. 

Demand grew quickly and he started hearing from strangers, like the owner of the garage with the Goodall portrait. 

“I’ve never seen this person before,” Thompson said. “They got a hold of me on Facebook.”

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Louisville artist Damon Thompson poses in front of one of his recent murals.

Thompson has people provide a list of who they’d like to adorn their homes or building.

“He had a list and Jane Goodall was on it,” Thompson said of the individual from Facebook. “And I was like, that’s a great choice.”

Thompson doesn’t charge anyone for these, but he said it’s cool if anyone wants to reimburse him for materials.

He gets that some people might wonder: What got a guy so hooked on painting portraits of women? 

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Damon Thompson works on a mural of Jane Goodall at a Germantown home on May 11, 2020.

His two sons and daughter have a lot to do with it. He wants them to know that these are “faces of triumph.”

“I want them to think that anything’s possible,” he said. “These are people that prove that. So that’s the sort of face I want to point towards the world.” 

Thompson said he heads back to work next week. But he’s not done with this series yet. He has at least 10 more portraits he’d like to do.

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Thompson’s portrait of legendary singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the Portland nieghborhood.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.