Not on display
- Jon Thompson 1936–2016
- Acrylic and oil paint on canvas
- Support: 1903 × 1503 mm
- Purchased 2019
Simple Paintings (Thinking About Signorelli) 2012–13 is a portrait-format abstract painting in acrylic and oil on canvas. The composition is dominated by a central Greek cross motif that divides the canvas into nine identically sized rectangles; painted in the same green as the thin border that runs all around the edge of the canvas, it is suggestive of its ground. The nine rectangles are painted in different tones of olive brown. The rectangle occupying the top left of the painting has a small rectangle painted light blue positioned at its bottom left corner; a small rectangle the same colour is positioned in the top right corner of the painting’s bottom right rectangle. Similarly a small flesh-toned rectangle is positioned at the top left corner of the left middle rectangle and at the bottom left corner of the right middle rectangle. The colours used in the painting are a response to the flesh and fabric tones found in Luca Signorelli’s (c.1450–1523) early sixteenth-century fresco cycle on the Last Judgement 1499–1503 – especially The Elect in Paradise – in the chapel of San Brizio in Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria, Italy. Writing about his sequence of Simple Paintings, Thompson suggested that they were concerned with colour and architecture,
where by architecture I mean the main divisions of the painting … I see architecture as quite concrete like the walls that separate the rooms in a house and colour as an evanescence, a voluptuous seepage, something that can pass between spaces and breathe real life into them. In this sense the Simple Paintings deny the idea of colour as fixed relationship in favour of colour as a sequence of events. If it didn’t sound so pretentious, I would say ‘transcendent events’ because this, hopefully, is what they are: colour events transcending the limits of architecture.
(Jon Thompson Simple Paintings, press release, Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London 2013.)
Thompson began his career as an artist in the early 1960s, making abstract paintings before turning to a less studio-based practice of conceptual photography and object-based installation (see, for example, his diptych photographic self-portrait Untitled 1997 [Tate T07402]). A respected tutor for many years, particularly at Goldsmiths College in London, he became celebrated for opening-up specialisms and allowing students to move freely between different disciplines – a reflection of his approach to his own work since stopping painting. His retirement from teaching in 2005 was marked by a return to abstract painting that was prefaced by a number of years when he was preoccupied with thinking about painting, during which time he came ‘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.’ (Jon Thompson, untitled unpublished text, 2005, Tate catalogue file.) He sought to answer this through his Simple Paintings which revisited his exposure to a formalist approach to composition when he had been an art student in the late 1950s and early 1960s. What he understood as a ‘formal unity’ he also described as a fascination with ‘“simple” things, where “simple” might be construed as a non-material, perhaps even a moral value’ (Jon Thompson, untitled unpublished text, 2012, Tate catalogue file). This particular painting, as well as the slightly earlier The Toronto Cycle #10 – Absent Roots Three Fold 2009 (Tate T15198),
exemplifies the hermetic nature of his painting in which seemingly rational spatial compositions are disrupted both structurally or by a suggestive use of colour.
Jeremy Akerman and Eileen Daly (eds.), The Collected Writings of Jon Thompson, London 2011.
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