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Jon Thompson, The Toronto Cycle #19 Cadence and Discord (HM) Traer los Sentidos, 2011, oil on canvas, 68 7/8 x 59".

Jon Thompson, The Toronto Cycle #19 Cadence and Discord (HM) Traer los Sentidos, 2011, oil on canvas, 68 7/8 x 59".

Jon Thompson

Anthony Reynolds Gallery

Jon Thompson, The Toronto Cycle #19 Cadence and Discord (HM) Traer los Sentidos, 2011, oil on canvas, 68 7/8 x 59".

Apart from being a noted educator, curator, and writer, Jon Thompson has also been an amateur Gouldologist: His latest paintings, like those in his previous exhibition at Anthony Reynolds Gallery in 2009, take their inspiration from the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, whom Thompson has clearly been reading and listening to attentively; this entire ongoing series, “The Toronto Cycle,” begun in 2008, takes its name from Gould’s hometown. The new paintings have a rectilinear structure with a division down the middle and bands of color running across each half; a sliver of white forms an edge all around the canvas, reinforcing the image. The overall effect is to divide each painting into two columns of colored bands, establishing a sense of both verticality and horizontality. This is a deliberate nod toward Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s dialectic between the vertical Being and the horizontal landscape, and perhaps a hint at Gould’s notion of the “plasticity” of sound consisting of “vertical and horizontal sensations.” The simple format allows Thompson to push basic aspects of color—chroma, tone, and hue—to the fore.

At first glance, geometric abstraction comes to mind, followed by Op art and even blanket patterns. Thompson’s color is intended to create a complex intellectual experience. All the new paintings bear the subtitles “Cadence and Discord” and “Traer los Sentidos”—the Spanish means something like “bringing the senses to bear”—and each subtitle also includes a pair of initials referring to an artistic precursor; for instance, MB would be Max Beckmann. The paintings don’t conjure specific artworks but rather the atmosphere created by the cited artist’s characteristic color sense—the most obvious example being the dark mood of Beckmann in The Toronto Cycle # 15 Cadence and Discord (MB) Traer los Sentidos, 2011. The Toronto Cycle # 19 Cadence and Discord (HM) Traer los Sentidos, 2011, has a bright, pastel palette that brings to mind (at least for me) the light and colors of the Bay Area more than the ostensible referent, Henri Matisse.

Thompson’s new pieces show him at his most subtle, in contrast to the works in his 2009 exhibition, with their more dynamic compositions and near-Op color. Those paintings conjured a different, fizzing energy. For example, three works whose subtitles include the phrase Absent Roots took inspiration from Gould’s account of how an unplayed note was key to the sound structure in Beethoven’s Sonata no. 30. In response, Thompson used the interaction of colors to evoke an absent hue. “Cadence and discord” are also present in Thompson’s newer paintings, as per their titles, but now in a much more understated fashion. Differences of tone and chroma create the appearance of receding and advancing space but also suggest differing speeds of movement, as if the bars were rotating downward or upward. Given time, each side appears to shift to a different tune, creating a wobbly tension in the overall image. In other words, there is a “pulse” (another term from Gould’s vocabulary). The result is a slow, unfolding tension between the two sides of the composition, a contained disharmony. Thompson’s interest appears to be in creating the sense of something entirely without limit or striving to push itself apart, yet held fast within a singular vessel. A contradiction, perhaps, but one that painters have traditionally labored toward: illusion and the reality of the thing itself.

Sherman Sam