Bob Thompson Biography

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Robert 'Bob' Thompson first entered Boston University to study education before leaving for the University of Louisville to pursue art in 1957. There, he met painter Sam Gilliam and joined the more established artist's collective Gallery Enterprises. After his sophomore year, Thompson spent a summer painting in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he encountered Lester Johnson and Jan Müller, whose work Thompson particularly admired.

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Thompson was inspired by the play of good and evil, which creates both order and chaos in the relationships of man, animals, and nature. In his vision, nude female figures express nature's sensuality, while birds symbolize power and freedom as well as his preoccupation with the ultimate flight of death.

Around 1959, Thompson moved to New York, where he mingled with jazz musicians Art Blakey, Ornette Coleman, Milford Graves, Sonny Rollins, and Nina Simone, among others. He also encountered Allan Kaprow's Happenings as well as other developments in conceptual art; however, the artist would eschew these experimentations to engage more intimately with works by the established masters of European art history. After mounting his first solo exhibition in New York at Red Grooms's Delancey Street Museum in 1960, Thompson received a grant to go to Europe; he would travel to and settle in Paris, Ibiza, and Rome for short periods of time, viewing works of art at museums and galleries firsthand while maintaining his studio practice. He returned to New York in 1963, joining Martha Jackson Gallery and presenting solo shows there in 1963 and 1965. He traveled to Rome in 1965. Despite warnings from his doctors and loved ones, Thompson continued to drink and use drugs heavily after an emergency surgery. After being hospitalized for appendicitis, he died in Italy at the age of twenty-eight in 1966.

Text courtesy David Zwirner

Bob Thompson
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Untitled by Bob Thompson contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, drawing
Bob Thompson Untitled, 1964 Felt tip pen on printed paper
27.9 x 52.1 cm
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