Sunday 22 November 2020

Bob Thompson and Jacob Lawrence: Mythology and History, 60's-40's (part 1)

Sometimes my life is so eerie
And if you think I'm happy paint me (white) (yellow)

- Arthur Lee, The Red Telephone  
The action  of art is not hypnotic, not mono-ideistic: it is synthetic; it excludes, but by making a little walled garden of the soul of all manner of cognate things, a maze, in which attention runs to and fro...
-Vernon Lee, Gallery Diaries 1901-4

It’s well known that mythology/religious and history painting were the one-time ‘big’ subjects, the genres with the most prestige attached, the highest expression of art etc. Also that they quickly fell from grace, were seen as academic, passé, by burgeoning modernism, which distanced itself from the Salon in terms of content as much as form (favouring less apparently loaded subjects like still life, landscapes, portraits). Inevitably, that only lasted so long. Partly because art always swings between a process of alternatively shirking, then pining for grand ideas, scale, has shifting ideas of where it might find/reach profundity. Partly (in a more positive sense) because inquisitive, restless practitioners are prone to picking up discarded or discredited subjects and seeing if there’s anything worth mining them for, or (even better) whether there might be some kind of inherent worth or usefulness to them. Sometimes out of necessity, pragmatism as much as anything. Sometimes out of a kind of anxiety over the achievements of the present compared to those the past (American abstract expressionism was in part a kind of last ditch attempt at the grandness of scale and theme in European history/mythology/religious painting). At other times it can be a reaction to real-world events or concerns (particularly the raised stakes of the two world wars, which art had to in some way, obliquely or directly, acknowledge, deny or negate). And then again, there are times when apparently bankrupt lines of formal-thematic pictorial inquiry are picked up as a kind of radical gesture in itself (in the similar way that disenfranchised subcultures often appropriate high, luxury or bourgeois fashion, for example). Or simply because the artist has a hunch that there might be 'something there', a kind of opening, some kind of potential (which speaks equally of the partial and inconclusive nature of any line of pictorial inquiry). 

Painting’s relation to a certain ‘canon’ and a European ‘tradition’ doesn’t have a to be a stifling or limiting thing. Often it’s a useful baseline, a set of conditions and presumptions, from which to deviate, reject, re-appropriate. (Though it must be stressed the opposite is not true. That if the European tradition is, remains dominant, is for anyone to plug into, engage with, critique, that is not true of subjugated cultures. If the history of European painting is there to be happily ransacked, that is a totally different matter to cultural appropriation in the other direction). 

Bob Thompson and Jacob Lawrence, working 20 years apart and in very different contexts, each deal with problematic genres (mythology and history painting respectively) moribund either in academicism, sentimentalism, in pure ‘illustration’ or mannered, modernist tropes: but prove that there is a genuine radicalism and space for innovation within even the most arid or problematic of genres, forms and subjects. Partly what’s radical about them is the way they each adapt and innovate within the most historically privileged, elevated, the whitest of genres at a time when most progressive artists had either abandoned or negated these things, or had a problematic relationship with them to say the least. Thompson and Lawrence deal with the problems of grand 'narrative' painting head-on, without getting reductive or being constrained by them. They dive in.

Bob Thompson is as interested in mythology painting's 'stage' as much as its players, its rhythms and rhymes as much as its 'action' or drama. Trees and skies, patches of sunlight and shadow are as important as the figures, and often treated with more individualism. Human and animal characters are often without feature– but by way of their general shape and interaction we recognize them as Knight, Horse, Dragon, Martyr, Mother, Child (though just as often they can be both angel and demon, man and beast, knight and monster, child and cherub, virgin and harpy). They are grouped together in Bacchanal, Battle, Procession; Lamentation or Celebration. Roles are played out by shapes as much as by these 'characters', just as the specifics of persons and narratives are subsumed to the feel and sweep of the thing. 

Shadows and clods of earth could easily pull themselves up to become figures, and the figures could just as easily lay down and becomes shadows and earth. The alive and the not-alive, the animate and inanimate, become relative terms. There's sometimes an ambiguity over whether the figures are lolling in bliss or in violent death. In Thompson's version of Laurent de La Hyre's The Children of Bethel Mourned by their Mothers (1653) [ 2.], it's only after a delay that we realize the bodies are being carried away [1.], that the living are among the dead, are experiencing death. The initial reading adds poignancy to the scene by contrasting death and violence with peaceful sleep and rest. The figure draped over the rocks at bottom right of the picture is very close to being someone listlessly trailing their hand in the stream, the yellow-green figure arched painfully over the rock at centre-left merely a patch of light (without the source image to hand it would be very easy to miss this 'figure' entirely). Similarly, it's only when we see the legs of the blue figure behind the horse that we see they are pulling a body onto the animal's back, when these legs could easily have belonged to that same figure, in the process of dismounting (in red breeches, say, or with satyr-like goat-legs). Thompson also gets rid of La Hyre's prominent ruins (common allegorical motifs of time and degradation) and instead lets the human forms begin their own process of 'de-composition', of returning to the earth; compares them to shafts of light, to dead rocks, to peaceful sleepers, dismounting riders reaching the end of their journey. In painting as in mythology, the thing is constantly on the verge of becoming its opposite, or that which it resembles, or even that which is highly unlikely but somehow appropriate. States are in flux. Matter protean. The entire world animate. 



All of this zeros-in on what constitutes 'mythology' beyond the specifics of 'narrative', or of particular narratives, particular mythologies even. It speaks also of painting's slightly forgotten debt to the 'mythological' mode or perspective generally; the direct correlation between the fluidity and animism of mythology and the fluidity and animism of painting; the internal visual conflict between stasis and motion, solidity and effervescence, one thing and the other, the living and the dead, the real and the imagined; the constant dynamic relationships of these things in Piero, Titian, Poussin etc., as in Ovid, Homer, Aristophanes.



But it's the second-hand visual expression of mythology that Thompson is specifically interested in. Importantly, he brings non-mythological Old Master works and subjects into the mythological fold, purely by visual means. Loosening them up, playing with spacing, scale and colour/tone, he opens a space for transformation and metaphor. Sometimes he exaggerates contrasts or the distinctions between elements; sometimes he flattens them, sometimes completely reverses or alters them. In Red Man with Child in Landscape (1964) [3.] a work after Old Man with a Young Boy (1490) [4.] by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Thompson reduces detail to the extent that it becomes much more about, say, the relative sizes of the figures' heads. He keeps but transforms the original's correlations between the old man's face and hair and the silvery sky/craggy landscape, but makes it much more about about human transience compared to the view out the window; about the transience of the people who live in buildings, the old man visually fading into the walls, becoming part of the house, the frame, the memory. It's often remarked that Thompson transforms the images he appropriates visually– less so how this process can take the content for a walk. Only in Thompson's version does the Grandfather become the House, the memory become its own memorial.There's a loss of detail, a subsumption of specifics into the 'feel' of the thing, which speaks of both the distinctness and elusiveness of memory, its complex processes of erosion and strengthening, 'clarifying' through erosion; speaks also of how pictorial articulation can (paradoxically) be teased out by 'simplification' and reduction. In Thompson's hands a fairly straightforward emblematic image about age and youth becomes like a fable, 'The Old Man Who Turned Into a House'. The original meaning remains, but is altered, personalized and extended in the re-telling.

But what he also 're-tells' is partly the play of internal visual-contradiction in the Old Masters. Organization within dissolution. Harmony within rupture. The hyper chromatics of older art for one thing, but also the way in which high-key colour contrasts get subsumed into high tonal contrast; the way brightly-coloured figures, say, become very 'dark' against painted 'skies'. It's also in his own skies that he's at his most various. They can be highly and willfully artificial, or they can allow more naturalism and freedom of gesture/tone than the rest of the picture. Or they can be quite plain, but with high degrees of luminosity (or with relative luminosity). The 'animation' of the sky is often of a very different character to that of the figures, can look (rightfully) like a totally different material, like something from a different planet. By 1961 he had moved to Paris and would sketch in the Louvre daily. But he also seems to have retained a fondness for the slightly 'off' colours and contrasts in old photo-chemical reproductions found in books. This sensibility somehow jostles with the experience of seeing these paintings in darkened or momentarily sun-specked galleries. Part of the subject matter is our experience of looking at older art, and, partly, its frequent impenetrability. It's the various memories of these images as visual things as much as it's the mythology itself he's dealing with, as much as it's also our relationship to mythology, and to painted mythology. And to the 'myth' of painting, perhaps.




 In all this he's very close to late Derain [5.-8., 12, 13.]. Both artists seem to have concluded to some extent that to engage with the mythological (as a painterly 'form' as much as a genre) without indulging in empty fantasy or easy surrealism requires a kind of hyper-chromatic, hyper-painterly and/or broken-down formal approach. That this also, in fact, 'reaches' a kind of material state more validly comparable to mythology in itself. Like Thompson, Derain immediately shifts into either a storybook or knowingly artificial, heightened visual mode when he goes for a mythology scene – scenes which can often be pretty hard to attribute to any particular narrative. Each artist engages with the sense of scale, dynamism and grandiosity in mythology, but at the same time they bring it down a notch, somehow closer to daydreaming or balladeering, recital. They find in it something very 'human' (human because 'made-up'). Each picture is a kind of 'telling'. The images always in some way hand-me-downs.





Thompson's signature is present in many of the paintings. It's simply there, neither emphatic nor discreet as such. This combined with the cursive text is a small thing, perhaps, but crucial to the work's overall character (note also the casually abbreviated dates, it's '64 not 1964, or even 64). Far-removed from the Old Master sources, it certainly puts him closer to Derain, while the idea of claiming and dating ('personalizing') takes on a specific piquancy when written over 'mythology'. If we're dealing with relationships of formal-thematic opposites here, one of the most obvious is the opposition between the paintings' historicism and contemporaneity, with related tensions between the personal and the collective, the invented and the inherited. (Hans Hofmann is often suggested as a key influence, and perhaps the older artist's incongruously conventional signatures [9.-11.] written over 'pure' abstraction appealed to Thompson as much as his hyper-chromatics: the tension in pictures hosting the elevated alongside the functional, the fussy and the free, as well as notions of ownership and authorship, give and take, an awareness of the teller and the telling as much as the tale).

Modernism had frequently alluded to mythology of course, though much of the time either in non-specific, generalized Arcadian imagery, or in decorative pastiche (or, in cases such as Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, a direct lift from Raphael's Judgement of Paris, there's a certain proto-Joycean irony, the mythic scene transposed knowingly to contemporary dress and alluding to artistic and moral hypocrisies).
Both Derain and Thompson acknowledge this kind of general 'art-land' of painted nudes and bathers, horse riders and minstrels. But they also pull it back into something simultaneously more complex in tone and register, and yet equally something closer to folk-art, or even folk song. In some ways decorative, yes, but in ways which also create opportunities to investigate rhythm and ornament, tone and key, clusters and chords versus image, language and allusion.   



Thompson's Homage to Nina Simone (1965) [14.] makes this explicit. He had a wide taste in music, and it's often said that he makes a kind of jazz-like improvisation over the old 'standards'. But it's significant that one of his most transparent allusions to music should refer directly to Simone, who was famously (and to the confusion of critics) fusing elements of spirituals, children's and folk songs with jazz, pop and classical elements at the time. Thompson died young in 1966, but his work also anticipates the rise and sour-decline of psychedelia/hippie culture, just as it's embedded in the mythic/apocalyptic poetry of the Beats (Alan Ginsberg was an early friend and supporter). Homage To Nina Simone is direct re-imagining of Poussin's Bacchanal with a Lute-Player (1627-28) [15.], but lets in notes of Thompson's contemporary world. The world of the counter-culture and the 'happening', a kind of 1960's version of the Arcadian Bacchanal, rite or revelry. 



Importantly there's a sense of humour and wit (always a crucial element of mythology), something missing in the self-serious ludicrousness of, say, Barnett Newman's biblicaly-titled zip-paintings. More accurately reflecting the rhythm and texture of mythology, Thompson is various in mood and tone. He can be febrile and becalmed by turns, frightening and funny. And the humour can be broad or subtle. In Satyr and Maiden (1965) [16.], he teases out tensions between animalistic desire and devotion latent in Piero di Cosimo's A Satyr Mourning over a Nymph (c.1495) [17.], adding sly details (despite the 'simplification') and making a visual triangle between the satyr's 'cultivated' goatee (also an artsy, bohemian accessory), the triangle of the woman's pubic hair and the space showing the patch of grass between the dog's legs (not to mention the dog's pink tail), while rhyming the Nymph's blue body with the undulating sea, mountains and sky. We don't know if she's blue because dead, blue because remote, or just 'blue'. He also adds an unlikely bent tree, further emphasizing the way the top of the frame seems to push satyr and dog down towards the nymph in the original, and playing on the idea of powerful 'natural' forces/laws of attraction (the colour also suggests a passage into early autumn, another inevitable natural cycle). 





Thompson spoke in interviews about the neuroses inherent in relationships between men and woman being a big subject in the work. But the pictures often contain a suppressed comedy as much as anxiety, find comedy in neuroses. It's there in the way Thompson's Andromeda (straightening-up Titian's [     .]) appears to casually toss Perseus into the jaws of the Kraken [   ], his weapon turning into a limp yellow bird. The rock she's supposed to be chained to in the original story looks more like a cave dwelling, as if she's throwing him out the house (it's rarely acknowledged that Thompson often has a kind of Flintstones-style, anachronistic humour going on), or as if she's crumpled the model of the heroic, classical male and thrown it in the trash. 


In the almost wing-shapes given to Perseus – and with his feathered friend and him flailing and falling into the sea – there's a conflation with the image of Icarus. Almost as if to say that anyone who falls into hot water, or who takes on more than they should, or who messes with what they don't understand are participating in a reenactment of Icarus's folly. Possibly even the figure of the artist, drowning in the deep waters of art's history and ambition (it's easy to image all those birds being carried around in Thompson's paintings being used as unwieldy paintbrushes, again like The Flintstones' bird-based/critter-based technology). The pictures are partly about how painting and mythology deal with the perennial problems of human nature, with art-making and mythology making in-turn being part of that nature.



 In some ways Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (1560)[20.] is itself  a very Thompson image. A little bit spaced-out in the sun. Dealing with flux, flight and flow, scale. Delayed registration. Certainly small details which comment on or transform the narrative, lurking in the distance/periphery, are a common trope of mythology painting. But Thompson can make this delay happen across large fields and shapes. How long is it, for example, before we see the 'backdrop' in The Circus [21.] is actually a crowd (who in turn look as if they're a kind of mask-wearing Greek chorus)? And even then doubts remain; over whether the birds are being carried by the figures or are trying to carry the figures off, say, or whether these might really be large birds or merely costumes; over how much of what we are seeing is 'real'.  

Such cognitive 'delays' are part of a wider questioning of readability. Whether the 'readability' of painting or the readability of myth: how each deals with a certain mystery and enigma, how each has a fluid, culturally and historically dynamic relationship with 'meaning'. Thompson is frequently drawn to images that either have an absolute, almost dumb simplicity – the hero thrown to the jaws of a sea monster – or to images that are somehow remote, opaque, enigmatic. Giorgione's The Tempest (1506-08) [23.] for example is famously elusive. Thompson extrapolates its key elements across several versions [22., 24.] while emphasizing the compositional division down the centre (also eliminating the bridge in the distance). The gap between the two figures on the two landmasses is somehow about the picture's own remoteness, as much as it's about the the unbridgeable gap that remains in any communication (and between man and woman, artwork and viewer etc.), as much as the unbridgeable gap between past and present. And yet, these paintings seem to suggest, such gaps are entirely bridgeable, given a small leap of faith/imagination/inventiveness; or, at least, they offer the tantalizing possibility of temporary crossings. Thompson is something like a painter returning to a crusty palette, trying to get the material active and vital again, responsive again. He's never cripplingly reverential: his fascination for certain images leads him to pull them apart before putting them back together. 




And in putting them back together, little shards of 1960's America poke through. An outside reality occasionally suggests itself. Today this is a further historicized 60's contemporaneity – the 60's having been 'mythologized' in the decades since –  just as the America that bleeds through the biblical and classical imagery is a specifically mythologized version of America. America as Eden is cliché enough, but as much as Thompson hints at it it’s fleeting, and certainly highly ambivalent. He rarely makes any reductive or straightforwardly allegorical references to, say, racial violence (the most explicit is is transformation of Fra Angelica's Beheading of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian (1438-40) [25.] into a lynching  [26.]), though there's a sense of societal angers and tensions in his incendiary skies, threatening overhead.




Thompson's own pork pie hat makes frequent incongruous appearances throughout the paintings, or mutates into 16th century Dutch-settler mode (like that of a puritan sometimes, at others like the skull-cap of a pastor/clown, or morphing into the conical hat of a classroom dunce, or a Klansman [27.]). Often it's a key anachronistic note that tips the painting slightly, adds a layer of ambiguity. Few things date quite like a hat, can seem so tied to a particular time and place, while at the same time suggesting a certain fluidity of form and meaning; taking on a 'role', donned either to disguise or to distinguish. This is partly why the chapeau is such a useful painting device– it's a sly metaphor for the artform's play-off between anonymity and genericism on the one hand, and individual expression, flair, pomp, dash etc. on the other.




Thompson's hat-forms carry a host of associations. They can suggest beatnik or nascent soul culture, or colonial uniform; symbols of the oppressor or the oppressed, entertainer or executioner, priest or cop. His Charles I [28., 30.] (after van Dyck's Charles I at the Hunt (c.1635) [29.]) is equal parts Adam, colonial general/explorer, and satanic influencer/trickster, with red skin and devilish beard, even a kind of 'tail' given by the bush in the background. He could be the captain of the Mayflower, or old scratch waiting at the crossroads; the serpent in the garden, an intruder in paradise. 

It's really only the hat and beard which are retained from the original in this image, the only necessary visual 'keys' to the painting's historical origins, the rest of the composition reduced to basic outlines (hats and hair are a big part of the history of African American identity, and Thompson frequently focuses in on hat and hair shapes, specifying where the rest of the picture might generalize). The hat and beard are historicizing details which conversely drag the timeless Eden into an actual, recognizable continuum (and into a specifically European history). They perhaps comment on the sense of temporal rupture in colonial invasion, the sudden lurch into another culture's continuity/discontinuity, as much as they reflect the wider play of time and history across Thompson's oeuvre. 



 The Garden of Eden associations come from Thompson's other works as much as anything – the red and yellow Adam and Eve-type couple are a recurring combination – but equally from deliberate touches like the prominent tree and the gender switch from the original picture's male attendant. Similarly, in one version the third figure is eliminated altogether [28.], while the blue lady in the other remains as a kind of Lilith figure in the background [30.]. Thompson does a lot to allow the Eden image to suggest itself prominently, but he also keeps the disruptive hat and beard in each version, overlaying the multiple histories and narratives while keeping things apparently simple and, even better, thematically consistent. Hunt, Conquest and Fall are all in the mix, along with Entitlement, Dominion and Dominance, civilization versus nature and so on, articulating one another rather than muddling the water or falling into overly simplistic symbolism. (Markus Lupertz's clashing of the Classical Nude with contemporary military helmets is a more on the nose, more bombastic, more didactic version of Thompson's troubled paradise [32.]). The leap from royal hunt to colonial invader via the temptation in the garden is made elegantly, and by a series of small shifts, alterations, eliminations and retentions. Such leaps in pictorial logic – unlikely, but somehow inevitable once-made – are fundamental to how Thompson's art works.


There's an emphasis on 'shape' and idea rather than surface and gesture, say, that puts Thompson in the company of American mavericks like Forrest Bess or Marsden Hartley–  his facture, by turns rough or functional, often close to these artists (the tenor of his skies particularly is often like Hartley's). He was recently paired with Louis Michel Eilshemius in a duo show (Naked at the Edge, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2015), which  flagged up each artist's differences as much as their shared obsession over the 'classical/mythological'. While both artists were deeply informed by the European tradition, Eilshemius leans more on the airy dreaminess of Corot or Courbet, while Thompson errs more towards the dynamism of earlier Renaissance and Baroque art. He perhaps shares more of a visual vocabulary, a morphology even, with Hartley; his forms sometimes coming close to becoming flag-shapes and emblems, almost-crosses, feathers becoming shells becoming spike-toothed combs, tree roots becoming bird’s feet, suns becoming rosettes [34., 35.]. There's a Hartley-esque sense of tumbling, (see The spinning, spinning, turning, directing, 1963 [33.]), as well as a certain merging of natural and synthetic forms, pattern and symbol that flits between the abstract and the mythic.



Via Hartley and Bess we get to people like Alfred Jensen, and perhaps Myron Stout. Jensen who pulled high chroma and surface, physicality and pattern back into a world of ideas; those 'ideas' being the ideas of mathematical formulae [37.-40.]; mathematics being in its own way just as useful as mythology's set figures (man, woman, horse, bird, cow, sky, tree mountain), endlessly re-combinable and reconfigurable, and as grand in scale; Stout, whose pared down, white-on-black forms reduce explicitly mythological symbols (tridents, lyres, shields, eggs) into abstracted pictograms [36.]. Thompson is of a piece with artists such as these, who gradually re-introduced meaning, mythology, spiritualism, language and so on into their painting without sacrificing certain advancements in abstraction. Itchy, awkward artists who we can still palpably sense wrestling with ideas, subjects and forms, while the work of more well-known formalists from the late 50's-60's can seem programmatic by comparison.  




With Thompson, the re-engagement with older art and with figuration is something of a reaction to the purged world of Ab-Ex, as if he's painting things suppressed, the images tumbling out. Things as essential to the make-up of painting's particular collective unconscious as much as mankind's (how many people were painting dogs seriously in the early 60's, or monsters, say?). 





With these artists there's always a pull back to a real world, a wider world. Jensen to maths, symbology, musicality and mysticism; Stout to typography, highway signage, primitivism and sci-fi futurism. For Thompson, it's as if he feels a tug towards art as it exists out in the world, of pictures and stories as they exist and are experienced in the world. There's always a sense of encounter – of Thompson's images, appropriated or not, as things 'met'. We are almost always conscious of him having seen, considered, been struck by, having looked hard at an original work, or at a reproduction. And all of this second-hand looking in turn compounds the mythological themes he's dealing with- of eternal struggles, tensions, attractions, relationships (whether between mankind and world, matter, nature, animals, death, birth etc.) playing themselves out. It's mythology itself (and depicted mythology) as subject, as much as it's the scene depicted which forms the ostensible subject matter in a Thompson painting. The dynamic interplay of his images and their relation to a tradition mirrors the transmission, reception and adaptation of oral and pictorial culture down the ages. Recognition, interpretation, applicability, elasticity; these are all important aspects of any handed-down storytelling, just as myths and fables always have essential, unchangeable, fundamental aspects; just as painting, the artform and the activity, constantly reassesses what to 'leave in', what to leave out, what to hide, what to reveal or suggest, 'how' and 'what' to tell, while still maintaining certain perennial themes and forms. 

And again, depiction, the experience of depiction, takes on a mythic quality for Thompson. His Cathedral [41.] is as much about the experience of seeing art on ceilings, as much about aesthetic, even touristic 'rapture' as actual, literal Biblical 'rapture'. Ideas and images may be eternal and ageless, but they are also stumbled-upon or sought-out in real places and moments. It's a common Thompson tension between the fixed and the fluid, the real and the artificial, the natural and the monumental, the accidental and the orchestrated which finds a kind of eloquent summation in his adapted photograph of the Trevi fountain (Untitled - Reproduction of the Trevi fountain, 1964) [42.] 




The Trevi fountain picture is a kind of allegory of art's mimetic play, and of how that play is its own 'mythology'. It's partly about flux and monumentality (which a fountain embodies), the difference between the statuary above and the 'real' figures leaning on the edge of the shallow pool. But then the 'real' figure becomes mythologized by the process of depiction, by Thompson's 're-telling'. It looks like the figure is leaning next to a gate; gates being potent features of transition in mythology; gates of Eden, gates to Hell etc, guarded by angels and demons. The transitional gate and wall rhyme with the transition between 'flowing' stone figures and flowing water. Similarly, there's a transition which happens at some indeterminate point halfway down the picture where the style of ‘rendering’, the illusionism, totally changes. The image is partly about this transition from one state to the other, how the fountain mimics the flow of water and the painting mimics them both, how the image itself appears to flow, cascade and re-circulate.
In a way, a fountain is a great way of dealing with mythological subjects without actually dealing with mythological subjects: again Thompson deals with these ideas and images as they exist and are experienced in the world. There’s wit also in the way it speaks of ‘tourism’ and art (and a certain kind of art) being intertwined– themes of travel and searching, 'quests' and pilgrimages that can lead to disappointment and disillusionment with the 'gods'. A painted-over photograph, the picture's physical make-up reaffirms Thompson's preoccupations with adaptation and availability: the availability of images, as much as the 'availability' of mythology, and the onus on the teller to adapt what's been left to them. 

In Thompson's re-telling of the fountain, gushing water becomes an angel’s wing becomes a flaming sword becomes a gob of spit. An image old as time becomes a tourist's trinket. In its own way this is as much about the weight (lightness?) of history, shared stories, life and death, physicality and spirituality, motion etc., as Newman, Rothko and the rest.


Continued in part 2...