NEW YORK, 28 October
1998 - The first major exhibition in twenty years of the work of
the African-American figurative expressionist painter, Bob Thompson
(1937 - 1966), opened last month at the Whitney Museum of American
Art. The exhibition will run until 3 January 1999 and includes over
100 paintings and drawings.
A prolific artist, Thompson was
rapidly to become an enfant terrible and achieved an
unprecedented level of critical and commercial success for an
African-American painter of his age. His career ended prematurely. He
died in Rome in 1966 following gall bladder surgery at the early age
of 29, leaving a heritage of over 1,000 works.
While still a
student, Thompson became associated with Red Grooms, Lester Johnson,
Robert Frank, Allan Kaprow, Alex Katz, and other members of the Sun
Gallery movement in using figurative images to take advantage of
Abstract Expressionism's freedom from photographic reality. At age 21,
Thompson exhibited thirteen paintings and Walter P. Chrysler, his
first collector, bought all of them.
Jones and His Family (1964)
Thompson moved to New York
in 1959, and by the time of his first solo New York show the following
year at the Delancey Street Museum, his style had become apparent even
though it would evolve. Receiving a grant in 1961 from Wall Street
stockbroker Walter Gutman, Thompson and his wife Carol left for London
on the Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by art historian and collector
Stephen Pepper. The couple moved to Paris where they settled for some
time near Montparnasse, until a Whitney Foundation's Opportunity
Fellowship grant allowed them to extend their stay in Europe and they
moved to the Spanish island of Ibiza.
The time spent in
Europe was to leave its mark. Thompson began what were known as his "head-on
confrontations," lifting portions and sometimes whole
compositions from the works of great masters of the European tradition
such as Bosch, Goya, Titian, Poussin, Caravaggio and Piero della
Francesca. It was during this time that he developed a clarity of
design. Treatment of landscape became more geometricized, modeling and
anatomical detail in figures was discarded and the artist's brushwork
became more controlled. The result was flatter, more even color areas
combined with complex collage-like modes of composition.
two years following his return to New York were to be the artists
brightest. Interviewed in 1965, Thompson described the emergence of
his "true" artistic identity: "I got into a groove ...
where the subject matter was monsters. The whole thing was involved in
a sort of poetry and the relationship was like man and woman to nature
to Nina Simone (1965)
During his short
nine-year career, Thompson had solo and group shows at many
prestigious galleries in major cities such as New York, Detroit and
Chicago and in 1965, his show at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New
York was to break gallery attendance records. Today, Thompson's work
has become part of America's leading public collections, including The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Detroit
Institute of Art among others.
The Bob Thompson
retrospective has been partially underwritten by AT&T, the
National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Fletcher
Asset Management Inc. and TLC Beatrice International.
Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, New
Bob Thompson Retrospective: until 3 January 1999
Whitney Museum of American Art