Bob Thomson has been an incredible inspiration to me since I first saw his work at a retrospective at the Whitney about to 15 years ago. The immediate pull was just the shear amount of work I remember seeing at that exhibition. Thomson was unbelievably prolific. Every room of that show just seemed to be overflowing.
Of course it’s what is in that work that has held me to Thomson ever since. The use of old master paintings as a source, and then building upon them, re-imagining them into a new world and a new vocabulary. The impression is works that are immediately connected to great paintings of the past, but also entirely new and fresh. The total and blatant ownership that Thomson took of these old works absolutely blew me away when I was younger, and continues to be just a great reminder of how to think and act as an artist in this day an age.
Then there is the color. The wildly energized pigment that stirs simply, but intensely across all of Thomson’s work. I always get the sense when I look at Thomson’s work that I am seeing not just a story told in images, but fundamentally a narrative defined and driven by the colors Thomson chose.
The work above, Thomson’s ‘St. George and the Dragon,’ had the greatest and most lasting impact on me from that show at the Whitney.
I think as I grew older, and came to really appreciate painting from all times, Tintoretto was one of the Renaissance era painters whom I first came to truly revere and desire in part to emulate. But for me all of Tintoretto’s intricate narratives, and not to mention the intricate masses of people, seemed so daunting and unachievable. Then I saw the Thomson exhibit, and my whole perspective changed.
It’s difficult to describe exactly, but in Thomson’s work I saw a new direction forward for myself to play with narrative, and to stay abstracted and color-driven. I can think of no other artist who more greatly inspired me or whose work more powerfully reinforced a confidence in the ideas I myself had. Thomson broke a few things open for me in my youth as a painter, and I always feel that a great deal of the painter I am today comes from experiencing his work.