New York

Richard Thompson

Monique Knowlton

Richard Thompson is one of the few younger American figurative painters to find his own stylistic way in the precarious terrain between illustration and metaphor. His ability to get down and across ideas in images was strikingly displayed in this group of recent paintings and watercolors from the ambitious series, “The Ancestor’s Dream—A Mythic Journey.”

This work involves Thompson’s questionings about his Oregon farm roots and his speculations about his pioneer ancestors. What we see is a starkly simplified vision of reality in general and of the Great American Pioneer Story in particular—forest wilderness, covered wagons, women in bonnets and long dresses, men in wide-brimmed flat hats and long beards. Stressing drawing over color and boasting the kinds of elisions and exaggerations of form associated with cartoons, the style here is immediately accessible. Chunky tubular bodies, heavy outlines, and faces and hands as patterned silhouettes are among the Thompson trademarks. The compositions, which use spatial disruptions and scalar distortions toward thematic ends, are wonderfully sophisticated; Clearing the Trail, 1981, for example, brings to mind the synthetic interrelationships between figure and ground of early Cubist painting, particularly that of Fernand Léger. Here the act of clearing the trail is suggested by both emblematic and pictorial means; people are shown in the process of moving, lifting, pitching, shoving, and so on in a vertical landscape chockablock with wagons, tables, and other objects. The dynamic contrapuntal rhythms of the composition are visual equivalents of the force and focus that the trail-clearing of the title demands. In Circling the Clearing, 1981, the composition exploits juxtapositions of near and far, big and small, to give a vivid sense of the competitive and strained relationships among the men and women gathered in a clearing containing a simple symbolic house and strewn logs. Very much about image, and the power of images to move, entertain, and delight, Thompson’s pictures emanate an appealing theatricality.

Ronny H. Cohen