I paint many paintings that tell me slowly that I have something inside of me that is just bursting, twisting, sticking, spilling over to get out. Out into souls & mouths & eyes that have never seen before. The Monsters are present now on my canvas as in my dreams. 
Following the success of our inaugural presentation at Frieze LA last year, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is pleased to return to Los Angeles with a solo exhibition of works by Bob Thompson (1937–1966) organized in complement to the recent traveling retrospective Bob Thompson: This House Is Mine, which concluded its nationwide tour at UCLA’s Hammer Museum in January. The gallery’s presentation at Frieze LA 2023 constitutes Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s fifth show on Thompson and our first solo exhibition of the artist since acquiring the estate in 2019. The presentation at Frieze serves as a preview to an upcoming solo exhibition of the artist’s work that will be on view from April 1–May 26, 2023, in the gallery’s ground floor space in Chelsea.
Sixteen major paintings and over thirty works on paper are on view at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s Booth A15, constituting a succinct, vibrant survey of Thompson’s visionary oeuvre. The works on view were executed between 1958, the year the artist moved to New York, and 1966, the year he passed away in Rome, providing a compelling synopsis of Thompson’s career. Both our Frieze presentation and the upcoming gallery show include works that have not been publicly exhibited in decades as well as several works that appeared in This House is Mine.
In a tragically brief life, Bob Thompson created a complex body of work structured by his own symbolic lexicon, fauvist palettes, and compositional devices drawn from the European Old Master tradition. As inspired by the improvisational riffs of jazz as he was by the formal tropes of Goya, Poussin, and Tintoretto, Thompson’s viscerally executed paintings conjure a psychedelic allegory of his own experience. Often set in a pastoral countryside or dense woodlands, Thompson’s scenes are populated by Madonnas and saints, monstrous birds, anthropomorphic donkeys, shadowy men in fedoras, and much, much more. During the years he lived in New York, the artist was deeply immersed in the avant-garde scene of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, participating in Fluxus happenings, befriending Beatniks such as Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones, and frequenting the city’s legendary jazz clubs, including the 5 Spot and Slugs’ Saloon.
A chance encounter with the work of German Expressionist Jan Müller (1922–1958) in the summer of 1958 set Thompson on a path to his mature style; Müller’s raw, flatly rendered allegorical paintings were a revelation to Thompson, and he sought out the artist’s widow Dodi Müller, to learn more; she advised him to eschew extended study of contemporary art in favor of close consideration of the Old Masters. Thompson subsequently took advantage of every opportunity to sketch the works of Old and Modern masters in the U.S., visiting the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia and frequenting The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He also took several long sojourns in Europe with the aid of travel grants and, after his career took off, his own funds. Sketching daily at the Louvre and various historical sites in Spain and Italy provided the artist with a seemingly infinite supply of fodder for his increasingly complex and monumental compositions.
The paintings and drawings on view at Frieze LA collectively represent the richness of Thompson’s oeuvre, portraying myriad subjects and converging a broad range of art historical references. Among the sixteen works on canvas are Harvest Rest (1964) and The Golden Ass (1963), which reimagine Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Harvesters (1565) and a scene from Francisco de Goya’s Los Caprichos (1797–99), respectively. Among the selection of works on paper will be Thompson’s spontaneous line drawings of various musicians he observed at the downtown jazz venues he haunted, including Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Bob Cranshaw, John Ore, and Sonny Rollins.