Justin Johnston sits in the lounge at the back of Close Quarters Social Gaming Club. Credit: Nicholas Youngblood

This past Friday, local illustrator and designer Andrew Thompson became the latest artist featured at the Close Quarters Social Gaming Club, where his exhibition, “Strength in the Wake,” promoted positivity in the face of hardship.

Thompson, a 2009 Columbus College of Art and Design graduate, has been commissioned to design pop-culture-infused work for years. He has made alternative movie posters, designed art for tabletop games, produced advertisements for Reebok and artwork for “Bojack Horseman,” “Star Wars,” “Incredibles 2” and “Magic: The Gathering” galleries.

Thompson said all of these experiences — in addition to his love of TV and movies — have shaped his colorful, graphic style.

The exhibition is more than a love letter to popular media, however. Thompson said most of the work featured in the gallery promotes positivity.

Thompson created “Banishment,” the central piece in the exhibition, as a positive outlet during a very hard time in his life. Not long ago, Thompson saw the end of a 2 1/2-year relationship and the passing of his grandfather less than a month later. He said his artwork centers around growing from these kinds of experiences.

“It’s all about coming out the other side stronger or learning from that or even being able to kind of reflect back and be like, ‘You know, if I hadn’t gone through that, I wouldn’t be where I am now,’” Thompson said.

“Strength in the Wake” is Thompson’s first solo exhibition and the first show to feature his personal artwork. Prior to this exhibition, he said he had only shown commissioned work. Thompson frequently sells his work out of a small booth at various conventions, and he said the large gallery was a change of pace.

“At conventions I am used to having a 6-foot-by-foot space,” Thompson said. “And I have to cram all that work that’s out there into that space and use it as efficiently as possible, whereas here I have some breathing room to spread the work out.”

Unlike his previous exhibitions, Thompson was allowed to curate the entire presentation of his work. In addition to selecting and laying out the pieces to be displayed, Thompson said he was able to paint the gallery walls to match his style. He added colorful shapes and patterns to break up the space.

Close Quarters, the home of the exhibition, is a member-run esports training facility and social gaming club in Franklinton, Columbus. For a monthly subscription, members gain 24/7 access to the facility and can host their own events.

Founder and owner Blake Compton said it was always part of his vision to have an art gallery in the space.

“Video games are almost every type of art put together, so having a gallery here was important to me to connect to the local art scene here in Franklinton,” Compton said.

The exhibition was organized by Side Hustle Syndicate, a local arts nonprofit that specializes in finding money and space for artists to show their work. For nearly a year, Side Hustle Syndicate has partnered with Close Quarters. They provide everything for the gallery and its opening event, including promotion, installation and refreshments, Justin Johnston, founder of Side Hustle Syndicate, said.

“If an artist has a great enterprise, what they need is three things: a sweet idea … money to pay for it and a place to do it,” Johnston said.

Side Hustle Syndicate provides this by partnering with local galleries and fundraising through grants and donors.

Thompson is just one of six artists who will be featured at the Close Quarters this year. The artists selected for the exhibitions are all meant to enhance the gaming facility, Johnston said.

Compton said that the current exhibition accomplishes this goal.

“It’s been awesome to see nights like tonight where artists are doing cool things, and there’s kind of a powerful energy of people enjoying themselves,” Compton said. “This is why we do what we do here.”