This exhibition offers a rich reconsideration of a visionary African American painter. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Bob Thompson (1937–1966) earned critical acclaim in the late 1950s for his paintings of figurative complexity and chromatic intensity. Bob Thompson: This House Is Mine borrows its name from a diminutive but exquisite painting created by the artist in 1960. With this title, Thompson declared his ambition to synthesize a new visual language out of elements of historic European painting.
The first museum exhibition devoted to the artist in more than twenty years, This House Is Mine traces Thompson’s brief but prolific transatlantic career, examining his formal inventiveness and his engagement with universal themes of collectivity, bearing witness, struggle, and justice. Over a mere eight years, he grappled with the exclusionary Western canon, developing a lexicon of enigmatic forms that he threaded through his work. Human and animal figures, often silhouetted and relatively featureless, populate mysterious vignettes set in wooded landscapes or haunt theatrically compressed spaces. Thompson reconfigures well-known compositions by European artists such as Piero della Francesca and Francisco de Goya through brilliant acts of formal distortion and elision, recasting these scenes in sumptuous colors. On occasion, familiar individuals appear: the jazz greats Nina Simone and Ornette Coleman, and the writers LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) and Allen Ginsberg.
Bringing together paintings and works on paper from more than fifty public and private collections across the United States, This House Is Mine centers Bob Thompson’s work within expansive art historical narratives and ongoing dialogues about the politics of representation, charting his enduring influence. The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue featuring scholars, artists, and poets, published in association with Yale University Press. Contributors include Kraig Blue, Adrienne L. Childs, Bridget R. Cooks, Robert Cozzolino, Crystal N. Feimster, Jacqueline Francis, Rashid Johnson, LeRoi Jones, Adjoa Jones de Almeida, Alex Katz, Mónica Mariño, George Nelson Preston, Lowery Stokes Sims, A. B. Spellman, and Henry Taylor.