Returning resident finds new artistic outlets: Reviving old building provides new inspiration – Martinsville Bulletin

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Compton standing against her repurposed industrial stove that was converted into extra counter space.
Compton’s new art workshop, currently working on a commissioned piece that is displayed on the wall.
Compton standing in her new work space up against her wall of art supplies and next to the table where her art is created. 
Compton’s renovated kitchen, decorated with a mixture of natural wood and industrial appliances, is where Compton said her guests always end up gathering in.
After 35 years in New York City, artist Tara Compton is back in her native Martinsville – renovating both her art form and a familiar old house on Broad Street.
Compton, the daughter of Fred Compton and the late Jackie Compton, studied sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University and American University in Washington D.C. She then moved to New York to pursue a career at Calvin Klein and Christian Lacroix before selling high end jewelry while she made her own jewelry on the side.
In 2015, she moved back to Martinsville and started making and selling jewelry with the shop Uldine which she ran out of her father’s and grandfather’s old Compton Auto Parts building on Bridge Street.
In August 2019, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia where she spent some time working for Neiman Marcus. She stayed there until November 2020, when she moved back to Martinsville.
Eventually, she said, she finally got “burned out” after years of making jewelry and her new interest in painting allowed her to find a new artistic outlet. During the start of the pandemic, Compton laughed, she was faced with the stereotypically large amount of free time that allowed her to explore her newfound interest in painting.
It all started with a request from Elizabeth DeVault. DeVault requested a particular painting, which, Compton said, surprised her – she had not thought before about painting.
This created an accumulation of two years’ worth of paintings – most of which are on exhibit at Piedmont Arts, through March 12, and many of which hang in her gallery, the Tara Compton Gallery, on Broad Street.
Compton’s art style varies widely and includes impressionism, surrealism, expressionism and abstract. She is currently painting a large number of landscapes, she said, and that those paintings have helped improve some of her other styles of painting by adding further depth.
“I don’t paint to sell, I paint to learn,” said Compton regarding her process of developing new skills and styles.
Though Compton indulges in a wide variety of styles of painting, she is largely self-taught. She watches some instructional painting videos, she said, but prefers to figure things out on her own through exploration and seeing what comes naturally. This way of learning helps her to develop her own style, uninfluenced by other artists, she added.
Reviving a classic building
Another one of Tara Compton’s artistic outlets since returning to Martinsville, has been the Broad Street building that houses both her gallery and her apartment.
Compton had been working out of her father’s warehouse when he decided to sell it. She needed a new gallery, so last year she looked into that big old white house on Broad across from Broad Street Christian Church. She found out it was owned by Ted Balabanis, who died on Feb. 4.
The pair realized they had known each other way back – Compton and Balabanis’s daughter were playmates as children, she said.
The property was not in the best shape when Compton first viewed it, but she said she was able to see that the building had “great bones” and was willing to put in the work to make the space somewhere she could live and work.
Among other uses, it had been a former site of the McKee funeral home and a caterer. The upstairs rooms she would rent were full of huge appliances and rubbish that had to be removed, and there were holes through the ceilings and walls.
Compton currently lives in the top level of the building and there are two units downstairs that will continue to be renovated. Compton hopes they will eventually be rented out to working artists.
The three months she and the team spent on renovations completely changed the building’s interior.
Compton said Balabanis, whom she “just adored,” trusted her completely to oversee the renovations. He paid for most of them, she said, while she and her father kicked in on some details.
Balabanis “had such a big heart” that his passing earlier this month had hit her very hard, she said. He was able to see the finished upstairs renovations before he passed away, and his jaw dropped at the massive changes, she added.
Compton’s living area is up the set of stairs in the front lobby. Up the stairs, there is a fully renovated bathroom that needed a new shower, toilet, outlets and tile.
The next area opens up into a kitchen. The area was transformed into a mixture of dark gray cabinets, natural wood and industrial elements that creates an area that, Compton said, her guests always end up in. Compton kept some key elements of the previous space in the kitchen such as cabinets and an old commercial stove that was repurposed into making more counter space.
Compton’s art studio is located next to the kitchen and came with its own set of challenges during the renovation: The roof was so damaged they had to build new support beams to replace the drywall. This room had a spacious desk for Compton to work at and a wall lined with shelves to hold art supplies.
Down the hall was an area, now a sitting room, that had previously held a kitchen and built-in refrigerators that Compton repurposed into a spacious closet. Connected to that room is Compton’s bedroom, full of plush white carpet, grey walls, a mirror coated dresser, transparent accent pieces, a plush sitting chair and natural lighting, giving a pure, harmonic, and dreamy atmosphere.
Compton has also created a gallery space that used to be a restaurant. This is where she displays various paintings that she has created and entertains guests as well. Also in this room is an inviting sitting area decorated in black, white, gray and beige tones, ambient lighting, and various plants that liven the room.
Also located in this large room was a dining area that is placed next to a mirrored wall that made the room look bigger, brown wicker chairs, a white rug and more of Compton’s art on the walls.
Compton still has some plans for the building regarding some small work done with the fixtures, mailboxes, and the downstairs units, but is fully living and working in the upstairs area.
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Compton standing against her repurposed industrial stove that was converted into extra counter space.
Compton’s new art workshop, currently working on a commissioned piece that is displayed on the wall.
Compton standing in her new work space up against her wall of art supplies and next to the table where her art is created. 
Compton’s renovated kitchen, decorated with a mixture of natural wood and industrial appliances, is where Compton said her guests always end up gathering in.
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