Greg Thompson '90 brings together the best of the South
Arriving at Hendrix as a sophomore, Greg Thompson '90 took a psychology class
and an art class.
"I had a ‘come to Jesus' moment and asked myself, ‘What do
you want to do with the rest of your life?'" he said. "What really made me happy
Switching his major from psychology to art, Thompson had the
following exchange with his father.
"My dad said, ‘Do you think you can make
any money at that?' And I said, ‘I think I can'," he recalled. "And that's where
His father needn't have worried.
Thompson now owns Greg
Thompson Fine Art in the historic Argenta business district in North Little
Rock. The gallery features the best Southern artists from below the Mason-Dixon
Line and sells original artwork – including works by contemporary and modern
American and European masters like Botero, Cassatt, Picasso, and Wyeth – to
clients all over country.
Exhibitions, including the early Best of the South
exhibition Thompson began in partnership with The Oxford American magazine, are
regularly featured in Garden and Gun and Art in America magazines and the New
York Times, and draw clients from across the country.
Thompson was always
interested in art.
"My mom was a museum director," he said. "And I took
classes at the Arkansas Arts Center from a very young age. It was like my home
His mother was familiar with Hendrix and former Hendrix education
and history professor Bob Meriwether was a second cousin.
"Growing up, I knew
Hendrix had a reputation as a fine liberal arts school where the
student-to-faculty ratio was low," Thompson said.
"I learned a ton of things
at Hendrix, one of which was a taste and then a hunger for education,
self-improvement and travel," he said.
"My art history professor Don Marr
used to say in art history class, ‘Here is an image of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo
De Vinci, and when you go to the Louvre in Paris you will be amazed at how small
it is and may be more amazed by the 200 tourists crowded around the painting
than the actual piece. And when you go to Turkey and see the Hagia Sophia, make
sure you see the mosaics on the second floor'," Thompson said.
inserting that word ‘when' into all of his lectures on fine art history," he
said. "So when I graduated from Hendrix, there was only one thing in the world I
wanted to do – go to Europe and the Middle East (e.g. Turkey) and experience
firsthand all of the things I had been studying in art history! My Hendrix
experience led to an insatiable appetite for understanding and exploring the
world around me."
Thompson stayed, lived, traveled and worked in Europe for
a year during 1990 – 1991, an enriching and life-changing experience he owes to
his days at Hendrix, he said.
"At orientation, Dean Churchill said to the
incoming class, ‘The reason you were selected is because we see the spark of
leadership in you'," Thompson recalled. "That really struck me."
graduation, Thompson waited tables and worked as a graphic designer, painting on
the side. He entered the Arkansas Arts Center's Delta artists' show and built a
base as an artist.
Though he sold some of his work, Thompson was completely
puzzled by the process of pricing his art. He decided that, as a dealer, he
would have a more stable income and would learn firsthand how to price art.
Initially he worked from his apartment as an art consultant. His first big break
came when he sold six or seven paintings to Charles Morgan, former Acxiom Corp.
company leader and Hendrix College Board of Trustees member. It was his first
big corporate sale and led to more sales to Acxiom, as well as new clients,
including Alltel, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and Stephens Inc.
"It just started to domino," he said. Sales to the Arkansas Arts Center led to
business with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which has led to
relationships and deals with other important fine art museums and collectors
across the country.
"I realized really quickly that Arkansas companies like
to buy Arkansas artists, and I wanted to represent the very best Arkansas has to
offer as a way to set myself apart," Thompson said.
With no storefront,
Thompson hosted art parties in an apartment. In one night, he earned more money
than he did in one month as a graphic artist.
"It mushroomed really quickly,"
he said, reaching $1 million in yearly sales by his fifth year. "It just
serendipitously happened." It also happened with a lot of hard work, focus, and
Over 12 years, Thompson developed a reputation with artists
and clients. The next logical step was to open a bricks and mortar gallery. Four
years ago, he did just that. His gallery is part of the Argenta area's
"When we opened, there was a firm footprint and clear vision for
the Argenta community," he said. "We dovetailed nicely as the type of business
they wanted down here."
Thompson likewise had a clear vision for his gallery.
He had been to professional galleries in Chicago, New York, and Paris and wanted
his gallery to be on par with anything in the world.
"I knew what a real
gallery looked and felt like," he said.
Touches like a private viewing room,
receptionist desk, and an office are just as important as what is on the walls,
In 2009, The Oxford American magazine asked Thompson to develop an
exhibition to coincide with its Best of the South Gala honoring actor and
Mississippi native Morgan Freeman and Little Rock author Charles Portis.
started looking more broadly at the South," he said. "I wanted to represent the
best of the best in Southern Regionalism."
His gallery now includes work by
Mississippi artist William Dunlap, which Thompson describes as "a real coup," as
well as Delta artist Carroll Cloar and many others who not only show at
Thompson's gallery but have work in major museum collections across the country,
including The Museum of Modern Art, The Smithsonian, The Whitney and the
Metropolitan, to name just a few.
"We want to give our collector client base
the very best they can have in the art buying/art collecting experience, whether
they are focusing on important emerging talent or household names," he said. "At
our gallery, the well-seasoned collector, as well as the beginning one, has a
wide spectrum of quality art in which to view and purchase. We are the only
gallery in the state which offers such an experience."
The Best of the South
show has become the biggest show of the year.
"It broadened our client base
by broadening the type of artwork we made available to the public," said
Thompson, who now has clients from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Jackson, Memphis,
New Orleans, New York and St. Louis.
In addition to working with artists and
clients from across the country, Thompson is proudly part of a cadre of Hendrix
alumni in the art world, including Jennifer Carman '00, an art appraiser who
recently curated a show at Thompson's gallery by the late Heber Springs
photographer Mike Disfarmer.
He's not surprised though.
and alumni are bright, talented, driven, and entrepreneurial, and they strive
for success," he said. "My passion that got ignited at Hendrix was art. I knew
with every fiber in my body that's what I was going to do and approach it with
the very professional attitude."
Now celebrating his 17th year as one of the
leading art dealers, gallerist and consultants in Arkansas, Thompson is looking
forward to the next 17 years and beyond.
"I love what I do and I do what I