Choose your dates:

  1. Sunday, March 3, 2024

  2. Monday, March 4, 2024

Artist Check-In: Bill Thelen

Raleigh-based artist, Bill Thelen, will be taking over 21c Durham’s Instagram on Friday, February 19th, when he will share more about his current exhibitions, and what he is thinking about and working on in his studio. If you miss the stories they will be archived on our Instagram page.

21c Durham first shared Thelen’s work in 2018, with the exhibition Hotel Theory in the Vault Gallery and Museum Shop vitrine. These installations of drawings, collages, wall painting, and a fiber work, were all inspired by his artist residency at Obracodobra in Oaxaca, Mexico, and by two texts: A Rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain), by Joris-Karl Huysmansand contemporary critic Wayne Koestenbaum’s Hotel Theory, a philosophical meditation on hotel living.  His installation at 21c investigated identity and influence, history and the environment, immersing visitors in orange and turquoise, colors which he says, “conceptualizes and cross-pollinates ideas about the interconnectivity of states of being with the environments that influence them.”


Hotel Theory, installation, 2018


untitled (jacket, agave, pots), graphite, watercolor, ink, 2018


Hotel Theory, installation, 2018


Bill Thelen has two exhibitions happening concurrently. The first one, maximum joy is a mixed-media installation, part of the exhibition True Likeness at Davidson College (Oct. 29, 2020—March 28, 2021).  Created during the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, maximum joy started at the beach without any inclination where it was headed, an escape from isolation to another form of seclusion. Thelen started pulling images from the beach and paired these with making connections online while searching for his tribe. At this time, he also started Drawing Room’s Zoom drawing club, an online drawing club where like-minded, lonely drawers connected and draw together every Saturday. (Check out @drawingroomnc on instagram for more information on how to sign-up.) A real community began to develop, and he took the idea of the beach back with him to the studio. COVID, self-discovery, mortality, geriatric sex in the time of crisis, space travel, queer theory, political and social outrage are all themes that surround him to create this monumental assemblage. Seeing the correlation between the AIDS epidemic and COVID, Thelen was triggered to create joy amongst the chaos. He focused on singular, isolated images—faces, figures, objects, body parts—and then assembled the works on paper with other objects to create a larger, narrative self-portrait. The installation references the isolation of the artist’s studio, where Thelen spends a majority of his time.


Bill Thelen’s installation maximum joy, part of True Likeness at Davidson College. ©Van Every/Smith Galleries, photo credit David Ramsey


Bill Thelen’s installation maximum joy, part of True Likeness at Davidson College.


Bill Thelen’s upcoming shows at SLUG Carrboro, NC will take place in two parts: side a  opens Saturday, February 13th (on view through March 7th) and side b: forest floor which opens March 12th (on view through April 7th). Thelen shared that his most recent explorations begin to connect several ideas: the history of the word “faggot”, mechanisms of forbidden pleasure, the tree man, and utopic discotheques.

According to the press release, the installation “brings to mind when we as people go out searching for our kindred spirits, we wander into discotheques, and seek out faerie gatherings, we find bits of who we are in the small gay-ish advertisements of magazines, to which we cut out and save away in our pocket.”

The history of the word faggot has become of recent interest to Thelen, the word meaning both “branches” and also a slur for homosexual. Thelen puts the branches back onto the homosexual figure, in an attempt to understand a world where humans move with the earth, as opposed to exploiting it and each other. Find out more about the exhibition and the opening at SLUG.


Pictures from Bill Thelen’s studio in preparation for his drawing wall as part of side a at SLUG.


Pictures from Bill Thelen’s studio in preparation for his drawing wall as part of side a at SLUG.


About the Artist:

Bill Thelen is an artist, curator, and educator living in Raleigh, NC. He is the co-founder and former Director of Lump, a non-profit, project space located in downtown Raleigh. He received his BFA from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and his MFA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His work has been shown nationally and internationally, and has been reviewed in FriezeThe New York TimesArt in AmericaTime Out LondonSculpture, and other periodicals and online journals.

You can learn more about Bill Thelen’s work at:

And you can follow Thelen on Instagram @billthelen

Shows currently (or soon to be) on view:

side a at SLUG Carrboro, NC, part of the Attic 506 complex.

Feb 13 – March 7, 2021


side b: forest floor at SLUG Carrboro, NC, part of the Attic 506 complex.

March 12 – April 7, 2021


True Likeness at Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College Davidson, NC

October 29, 2020— March 28, 2021