Thomas Bils runs his fingers through his hair and brushes away a loose strand. His black sunglasses hide his eyes. He crosses his arms and leans onto the mosaic concrete table outside Panther Coffee in Little Haiti. The 29-year-old artist recently celebrated the opening of his first solo show at Spinello Projects.
The exhibit, "Everything Is Not Quite the Way It Is," features 28 paintings and is on view through March 11. The body of work is aptly titled — the young painter lives in a realm of uncertainty regarding his art.
"Ambiguity is a very fun place to explore, not only as an artist but as a viewer of art," Bils says. As he speaks, he runs his thumb back and forth over a tiny crack on the ceramic handle of his white mug. "I create this space of ambiguity so that other people can step in and kind of make the artwork their own experience."
As you step closer to examine any of his works on display, it's almost as if the piece begins to take on a different story altogether. This is wholly part of the charm.
A large 48-by-96 oil painting of a microwave, Put This Foolish Ambition to Rest, hangs on a gallery wall at Spinello. At first glance, it appears to be simply a painting of an old model of a Frigidaire appliance with a glass of water inside it. Step closer, and you'll see a singular Apple AirPod earbud floating in the glass. It's the left earbud. The cooking cavity of the machine has some wear to it — visible stains along the back wall and the corners. Lost in thought, you wonder what type of person would put headphones in a glass of water in the microwave. What other curious objects have heated up? What could have left so many stains?
These are the exact emotions the artist aims to illicit with his work.
"I really enjoy taking on this role as an unreliable narrator," says Bils coyly. "I don't want [my work] to just be like a visual diary of mine; I want it to be engaging and exciting, and I want to keep the viewer on their toes. I want to keep them guessing what's real and, what's not, and is it safe to relate to this painting, or is something sinister happening in the background?"
It's breathtaking how Bils can recreate reality using oil and a keen eye for detail.
The pieces on display are a collection of works Bils created between 2018 and 2023. For Bils, he has a personal three-wall rule when it comes to his paintings, which explains why he tends to hang onto much of his work.
While the works were done in the span of five years, they each carry a common theme that connects them.
Bils was born and raised in Melbourne, Florida, before relocating to Miami for college. Throughout his youth, the artist recalls living through the height of the opioid crisis and attending parties in high school where drugs were readily available.
These experiences — and some Polaroid snapshots — are the source material for many of Bils' work. "I'm really just painting about my life. It's all very autobiographical," he adds.
As he extends his left arm to reach for his coffee mug, a tattoo of his hometown written in bulbous type peeks out. On the back of the same arm, he has a pair of dice, a small molar, and a cactus tattooed.
"I have a very strong appreciation for the banality of things," he says.
Thomas Bils' "Everything Is Not Quite the Way It Is." On view through March 11, at Spinello Projects, 2930 NW Seventh Ave., #103, Miami; 646-780-9265; spinelloprojects.com.