“I am particularly interested in the metaphysical aspects of painting; achieving that special quality of formal unity which can instil an almost involuntary yet visually intelligent response from the viewer…for me, tying painting into the realm of the ‘visual’ holds it somewhat apart from the image dominated world of the merely ‘visible’
Jon Thompson’s first solo show of paintings was held at the Rowan Gallery in London in 1960. He was 24 years old. Four more followed, in London and New York, in quick succession between 1960 and 1967. The next exhibition of his paintings was not to be for almost 40 years; in the intervening decades Thompson became perhaps the most visionary and radical art educationalist in Europe, turning Goldsmiths College into a creatively toxic generator of talent, fostering the YBA generation and setting the agenda for years to come. He then moved on to head the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht before returning to London at Middlesex University. He also wrote some of the most lucid, erudite, poetic, penetrating books, catalogues and essays on the subject of art and artists and curated several crucial international exhibitions. Of his catalogue essay for one of these (Falls the Shadow, Hayward Gallery, 1986) Michael Bracewell wrote “…easily equaling anything written by Barthes.”
Thompson did not stop making art; text work, performative photographic pieces, objects and large-scale sculptural installations which were widely exhibited, but he did not return to painting until he retired from education and was able to devote himself to “the day-to-day involvement that a serious painting practice requires”. It was painting that mattered most ,…”Over the years I have come to believe that painting offers the highest order of aesthetic experience, an intimation of ‘oneness' or singularity. When a painting really works, it has answered the oldest of metaphysical conundrums by becoming more than the sum of its parts.” (JT 2004). From 2004 until his death in 2016 Thompson produced nearly 100 sublime, complex, indeed metaphysical paintings. There are nine of them in this exhibition; together they cover the full 14 years of Thompson’s late work.
The titles of the works locate the non-material, even moral values of these paintings and extend their potency immeasurably. These are not hard edged abstracts. Get up close and you can see the small brush marks and the history of their making. The earliest pair, with their almost subliminal cruciform structure, Valetta, The First Cut and Valetta, The Final Tear refer to Caravaggio’s Beheading of John the Baptist in Malta; the last two paintings, Sponge with its extraordinary geometry peeling layers into our space and Leporem, with five different blacks rendered rich in colour through juxtaposition, are the culmination of a series titled The Lyotard Suite and thence to the French philosopher’s Commentaries on the Confessions of St Augustine. Meanwhile, in the deep blue of Manresa: Upward Rising Fire we are escorted to the cave where Saint Ignatius Loyola did penance before founding the Jesuits (the Catholic fire referring to remorse and salvation) and the cross appears again in the painting titled Donne’s Crosse: Meridians Crossing Parallels which has at its heart a well of blue-black both mirroring and absorbing the cascade of surrounding colours that jostle its periphery; the painterly equivalent of a black hole.
The three paintings from the series The Toronto Cycle (its different variations number 20 works) are depositories of perhaps the most important influence on Thompson’s practice, the music of the Canadian piano genius Glenn Gould …”.stretching phrases to breaking point, making breathless the silences, delaying and sometimes thickening, deepening and drawing out sounds as he strives to ‘resurrect’ the work into new meaning, strives to match the continuum which is playing endlessly in his mind, ‘the music itself’. Precisely the same kind of things occur in the act of making a painting except that in painting each action and each judgment is made against the presumption of a final simultaneity, ‘the thing itself’.” (JT 2013). The reference to Gould’s home city acts as a container for a number of different paintings. The three exhibited are from a group sub-titled Cadence and Discord - terms which apply equally to music and to colour relationships. They also carry another reference to Ignatius Loyola in the words Traer los Sentidos (bringing the senses to bear) and finally, the title of each includes, in parenthesis, some initials, GdiB, PC, PG…these signify artists who the viewer might profitably consider in relation to each painting – Giotto di Bodone, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin.
This exhibition is #9 in a developing series of collaborations between Anthony Reynolds Gallery and close professional colleagues around the world. The gallery has represented the work of Jon Thompson since 1985. His work is included in major collections in Europe, the USA and the Far East.