Acid Rain recently caught up with Lump founder Bill Thelen to discuss Lump history, the gallery’s 20th anniversary season and the current exhibition Dress/Shield. The humble exhibition space began in 1996 in an unlikely location in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. The beauty of Lump is in its ability to balance the curatorial rigor of a commercial gallery with the experimentation of an alternative art venue.

Thelen sees the space as an extension of the artists studio rather than a platform for sales to collectors. His dedication to featuring challenging work has solidified Lump’s importance to the regional discourse over the last two decades despite being largely ignored by art magazines and critics that rarely venture outside of the cultural mega-centers.

Bill Thelen

Bill Thelen

Thelen’s curatorial practice is an outgrowth of his own prolific art practice focused mostly on idiosyncratic thick-lined drawings that seem both spontaneous and meticulously composed. He recently ventured outside of Lump’s walls and organized a large-scale museum exhibition at CAM Raleigh called “The Nothing That Is: A Drawing Show in Five Parts”.

Lump Gallery, Photo Credit: Martin Buday

Lump Gallery, Photo Credit: Martin Buday

“The little gallery that could’s contributions to local life cannot be overstated, and its innovative shows continue to challenge, confound and confront.” – Chris Vitielo, Indy Week


Acid Rain: Can you give us a little background on what you were up to prior to 1996 when you started Lump. Aside from your own art practice were you doing any curating or exhibition organizing ?

Bill Thelen: Before I moved to North Carolina in 1995, I was living in San Francisco. I moved there right after I finished my BFA at UW-Milwaukee in 1993. I studied experimental and non-linear film and video. I had done some film programming and worked at the Milwaukee Art Museum as a AV technician. In San Francisco, I discovered I wasn’t that interested in being a filmmaker anymore. I was more interested in visual art, performance and installation. I was also becoming increasingly aware of street art as I made my way around the city.  I started volunteering at New Langston Arts and this gallery called Kiki. I was more of an observer and sponge in San Francisco. I would go to as many shows, performances, readings, lectures as I could.

AR: How did you and Med decide on a location for the gallery? Was it important for you guys to buy a building or did you also look into renting a space?

BT: When I first came to Raleigh, I just walked around for a year and got to know the city. I also worked at an art supply store and was starting to think about making work. I was working with Ava Johnson at the store, taking classes and making work in my room. Ava and I were talking about sharing a studio and we started looking around and were pretty frustrated because we both had no money. Ava decided to move to Chicago and Med came up with the idea to buy a building and I could manage the studios. The building we found was literally “on sale” and we had a weekend to decide. We really didn’t think about the location and more about what we could afford. This was our one and only chance, so we took it. The space was divided in half and we decided to have shows until we filled the studios. It became clear that I was more interested in curating than having a studio so we just stuck to that model.

AR: Where does the name Lump come from ?

BT: I was using the name Lump Lipshitz to make work under. Lump was a nickname I had in college and Lipshitz was Ralph Lauren’s last name that he changed to sound more WASPy. We needed a name for the space and Med suggested we call the entity Lump and that was that. 

AR: The current show is the second installment of the 20th anniversary season which we’ve dubbed Lumpxx.

Can you talk about how this show and the artists in Dress/Shield relate to the history of the space ?
BT: I started thinking about our 20th season and wanted to extend the invitation to people who had shown at the gallery and the connections we all have made through being part of the space. I started talking with Tory Wright who had worked at the gallery about some of the people she had met through the gallery. She had already collaborated with Lydia Moyer on the Hateful show and Lydia went to school with Leah Bailis who had shown at Lump. Tory had also collaborated with Laura Sharp Wilson and had introduced us to Molly Schafer. I had recently worked with Lee Delegard and saw some similar themes in all their work. There really wasn’t any agenda except for the fact that their work had flowed through Lump at some point in time.


The artists featured in Dress/Shield include Leah Bailis, Lee Delegard, Lydia Moyer, Molly Schafer, Tory Wright, and Laura Sharp Wilson. The artists are based out of Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Virginia, and South Carolina and their working processes are just as diverse – encompassing sculpture, textiles, video, photography, and works on paper.


Lee Delegard

This group show is an opportunity to see how the perception of those voices changes when they are in chorus and to explore the connections between the work of women artists who are disparate in geography and media while sharing a formative connection to North Carolina and Lump.

Schafer and Wright respond to recent motherhood with drawing, photographs and intricate paper-cut while Moyer frames the experience of being female through text-based work that references local and national politics.

Lydia Moyer, "Trump Pillow"

Lydia Moyer, “Trump Pillow”, Cotton

Lydia Moyer, "Birth Control Pillows", Digitally Printed Cotton

Lydia Moyer, “Birth Control Pillows”, Digitally Printed Cotton

Bailis does so with quilts that double as full-body masks; Delegard uses painting and sculpture to explore relationships between desire, consumerism, and the body. Sharp Wilson, whose practice is most often painting, expands on her nature-inspired work with an installation of newly created textiles referencing historical social concerns.


On Wall: Tory Wright


Leah Bailis

Although none of the artists featured in Dress/Shield currently reside in North Carolina, many of them have once lived in the region and gravitated to Lump over the years. The import/export model is reflective of how the gallery has become a leading voice in the region – artists from all over are invited to exhibit in the space, while local artists associated with the gallery may have opportunities to show their work outside of the southeast as part of the loosely organized collective, Team Lump.


Laura Sharp Wilson


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