Thompson's Gift

Consider an amazing untitled gouache of 1963, a detail of which appears on the cover of this show's fine catalogue. An Icarus figure in red, clutching a yellow bird form, plunges toward the gaping jaws of a sea monster as a nude female (possibly Andromeda, chained to a rock) watches from shore. Does the image sound silly? It is utterly persuasive. Saturated colors in soft, dry pigment drink light, and every touch of the brush, staying where it was put, exhales eloquence. When you turn away from the glowing and glowering little picture of an unspecific tragedy, it turns big and talismanic in your mind.

Painting crazy about painting: Bob Thompson's Bird Bacchanal (1964)
Robin Holland
Painting crazy about painting: Bob Thompson's Bird Bacchanal (1964)


Bob Thompson
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
Through January 3

Thompson entrusted himself and his talent to love. He counted on the ready public empathy that mythic material requires. Like his jazz contemporaries, he proposed to summon a better world out of blood feeling and thin air. Wishing plus beauty would work wonders. Thompson thus made one mistake after another about what is possible in the United States of Cruelty that is the world. But his foolish faith, suspended in paint, doesn't cease to preserve a dream that someone may yet want to conjure with.

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