Catalogues Thelma Golden Bob Thompson

ISBN 13: 9780520212602

Bob Thompson

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9780520212602: Bob Thompson

Bob Thompson (1937-1966) was a figurative expressionist painter active in literary, musical, and artistic circles in New York and Europe from the late 1950s until his death in 1966. In the first book devoted solely to Thompson, the life and work of this pivotal figure in modern American art history and African American culture receive the attention they deserve.

Judith Wilson situates Bob Thompson within the context of both contemporary artistic production and cultural trends of the fifties and sixties. She uses interviews, Thompson's diary entries and letters to his family, and his work to give a thoughtful and thorough interpretation of his art and persona. She traces Thompson's development—psychologically, socially, and artistically—effectively portraying his first encounters with art and bohemian culture and his intensely active period in Europe shortly before his death in Rome at the age of 29.

Bob Thompson's life intersects several important currents in recent American culture, and his work reveals an unfinished quest for communal identity, says Wilson. His use of postmodern techniques of appropriation and pastiche embraced both the Western tradition and cultural resources specific to the African American experience. The publication of Bob Thompson recognizes the important role of the artist in the vanguard of twentieth-century American art.

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Review:

The remarkably talented, if previously neglected, African American painter Bob Thompson (1937-1966) finally has his day in the sun. This excellent book, published to accompany an important exhibit at New York's Whitney Museum, tells the story of an artist who overdosed on heroin at age 29, but not before leaving many dozens of excellent canvases, mostly inspired by the mythological scenes of classical painters like Poussin. Subjects such as Mars and Venus and The Massacre of the Innocents show Thompson's fascination with the artistic past, and the very personal variations of this essentially self-taught painter have a winning energy and skill. His portraits of friends such as Leroi Jones and Allen Ginsberg are less outstandingly original, recalling the work of New York painters like Alice Neel. Art historians Thelma Golden and Judith Wilson are well informed about Thompson's artistic and literary contacts, his trips to Europe for inspiration, and his appetite for European culture--which make his life all the more tragic in its brevity. Still, his exuberantly graceful and colorful canvases remain, and these are well reproduced in the present book. Elegance of gesture was of primary importance to Thompson, and his works kept on improving until the very end. He was an important American painter, and fully worthy of the attention he is at long last getting. This book will intrigue anyone interested in modern figurative art. The only disappointing element is the brief and somewhat confused notes on individual paintings. Otherwise, this is a very useful title, whether or not one has visited the Whitney retrospective. --Benjamin Ivry

About the Author:

Thelma Golden is curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art and was the organizer of the exhibition Bob Thompson. Judith Wilson is Assistant Professor of History of Art at Yale University and was also an advisor to the Thompson exhibition.

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Golden, Thelma
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