Houston artist lands major art show but spends opening in ICU

- A Houston artist gets the biggest gig of his life, but a near death experience keeps him from enjoying it.  This week of Thanksgiving the artist isn't focusing on what went wrong but what he has to be thankful for.   

Artist Christopher Thomas finally landed a one-man show and for an entire month his artwork would be featured in a downtown Houston gallery.  Just days before the opening, however, Thomas was flown by Life Flight to the Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center barely clinging to life. 

“I was intubated, had a tube down my throat,” explains Thomas.

When you look at photos from opening day of Christopher Thomas' exhibit at Samara Art Gallery in Downtown Houston, you’ll see all the pictures are of Thomas' wife and his 9-year-old and 11-year-old sons.  The artist is nowhere to be found.

“If Christ is being glorified through the work, then the job is being done regardless of if I'm there or not. But it was sad to not be there for the opening because you put your life into it. It's like sending your babies out into the world,” explains Thomas.

Three days before the 47-year-old's art exhibit opened at Samara, he suffered a massive heart attack due to Scleroderma, an auto immune illness he was born with. 

“Scleroderma means hardening of the skin.  My body produces an excessive amount of collagen and it hardens my skin on the outside and if it progresses it starts to harden your organs on the inside and that’s what’s happening right now,” adds Thomas.

He spent more than a week unconscious, in the Intensive Care Unit.  ”I was really concerned regarding what I saw because he had swelling, swollen quite a bit in the face even to the point where his eyeballs were swollen outside the lid,” explains Thomas’ wife Carnita Thomas.

During that time of uncertainty Thomas couldn't help but think of his boys.  “I can't imagine not being there for them, for them to get through high school.  I have to live just for that to get them where they need to go.  I’ve always taught them to be a buoy of integrity.  I tell them you're representing Christ.  You're representing yourself and you're representing the Thomas family,” says Mr. Thomas.

We caught up with the artist barely out of ICU.  He said he’s “in pain all day every day” but despite it all he's still smiling and even dancing in his room in the heart failure unit at Methodist.  “If I was just holding on to Chris I'd be broke down but I'm holding on to Christ.  It's nowhere near over but I'm going to keep fighting because I want to continue my destiny”.

Thomas' exhibit is on display at Samara Art Gallery on Main Street through the end of the month.  He has experienced a number of successes as an artist.

“I did work for Sears, McDonald’s, the Post Office.  I’m the youngest African American artist collected into Hallmark cards,” said Thomas. But the Samara gallery representation was something he’s waiting for his whole life. 

“So that is pretty special but at the same time I know he really wanted to be there.  We've been together 26 years.  We've been married for 24.  I’m extremely proud of him and just excited for what the future holds for his work.  We're just hopeful he will continue to get stronger and get healthier and continue to be a blessing through his work,” explains Mrs. Thomas.

The artist remembers when Samara came calling "I was so enthused. I'm like I can't believe this. I tried to play cool though like 'Uh let me check my schedule and I'll let you know’ but I could barely keep my composure,” smiles Thomas. 

One piece on display is entitled “Through The Fire”. "It's the story of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego.  Historically if you look at that piece of artwork, they're in the story and they're like aaaaaah, but if you're in the fire and you're not burning and you believe God said I'm going to be with you regardless, you're going to dance in the fire.  So in my painting they are dancing, breakdancing.  I paint art that's in the cannon of history and reinterpret it for a hip hop generation.  I'm trying to speak to today as Caravaggio during the Baroque he spoke to Italians at that time.  Rembrandt he spoke to Dutch people at that time,” smiles Thomas. 

Take a good look at his work and you’ll see Thomas paints the base of his artwork using his fingers and hands, not a paintbrush.  He has studied art for decades and says education is so important to him because his father had a 3rd grade education.

“But my father was brilliant.  I wanted to get my degree because no one else in my family has their degree,” Thomas said. 

Thomas says he’s standing strong in his faith for healing and to touch as many people as possible through his artwork.

"I'm going to walk out of this hospital in just a couple of days, in the name of Jesus I'm walking out strong and I'm going to continue my work,” Thomas said.

Thomas still needs a heart and lung transplant but he says this Thanksgiving he has plenty to be grateful for and hopes you'll spend this holiday season counting your blessings as well.

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