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paul secor

"Blues for Smoke" - Exhibition at the Whitney

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I saw it a couple of times in LA. It has a lot of great things in it; it's a little loose as a show. But long video documents of some great bands; art that has jazz & blues as a direct subject, or that is somehow "influenced by" jazz & blues. Dependent on your views of the curator's views of the essential qualities of blues that are being captured directly or indirectly in the art.

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I would definitely recommend this show based on the checklist of works and what I've read about it. For what it's worth, one of Bob Thompson's great paintings is in the show, "Garden of Music," which pictures Ornette, Don Cherry, Trane, Sonny Rollins and, way in the back, Charlie Haden. http://www.google.co...Q9QEwBQ&dur=132

:D

Can you identify the naked females?

I don't think this celebration of Jazz in an earthly paradise, is quite what Gauguin had in mind with his pervy paintings of pubescent Tahitian girls.

But I like this one better. A good blending of Formalism and Content.

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No, can't identify the naked women (smile). But Thompson -- a really fascinating figure and great artist. He was part of a group of figurative expressionists in the late '50s and early '60s who continued to paint the human form but favored loose, gestural brushwork that pushed toward abstraction, which was, of course, the dominant mode in American art in those days. Other figurative expressionists that Thompson is often grouped with are Lester Johnson, Larry Rivers, Jan Muller and others, including De Kooning when working in a figurative idiom. Thompson was especially interesting for employing myth and allegory and the way he riffed on old-master paintings the way jazz musicians improvise on standard songs, using vibrant color, abstracted forms and rhythmic repetition to give his paintings a real syncopated pop. He was quite the bohemian --heroin, the whole bit. He kept a set of drums in his studio and and was close with a lot of jazz musicians, including Charlie Haden and Jackie McLean. He died in Rome from drugs at the ridiculously young age of 28 in 1966. There's a great long essay about Thompson in Stanley Crouch's book "Notes of a Hanging Judge" that's called "Meteor in a Black Hat."

In the big Thompson monograph published in conjunction with a show at the Whitney in the late '90s there's some background on "Garden of Music" in the essay by Judith Wilson: "One day while Charlie Haden sat watching him work,Thompson announced, 'I'm painting my favorite musicians, the ones who inpsire me!' A few days later he phoned and told Haden, 'I'm putting you in the painting.' Haden went to the artists' loft and spent an afternoon watching his portrait emerge. ... The painting shows the figure representing Haden staring at a giant bass fiddle that he holds aloft by its stem. When he asked why Thompson showed him addressing his instrument in this impossible way, Thompson said that was how he played. Recognizing the accuracy of the painter's insight, Haden explains that he was extremely dissatisfied with his playing at the time. ... 'There are certain people in different art forms that you feel more akin to than others people,' Haden observes. 'Bob felt a closeness to the way we felt about what we were expressing about life. He really painted sound. A lot of people felt very excited about what we were playing at the Five Spot, but not to the extent that Bob did -- in terms of a realization of it in his work. It struck something in him where he felt, 'Yeah, I'm not alone.'"

(BTW, that's also Ed Blackwell in the middle of the painting, seating behnd a drum, holding a knife. Thompson was apparently fascinated by the way Blackwell whittled his own sticks.)

Some years ago I went to see some of Thompson's work at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York and at one point Rosenfeld pulled out a box of drawings that had come from the artist's widow. There were a number of interesting black-and-white pen sketches of musicians that I was told were done on site at various jazz clubs including the Five Spot. I think some had enigmatic markings as to who they were and I remember that I was able to help identify some of them for Rosenfeld, including John Ore (may have been a Monk gig.) I was also able to point out that several of the drawings were surely done in the studio because they were recognizable images of Trane and Cannonball that were clearly taken from Prestige and Riverside LP covers. There was, however, a dazzling drawing of Sonny Rollins done with all these swirling concentric circles around him. Somewhere I have a photo of it and if I can locate it, I'll post it. In the end, however, I thought it was overpriced and couldn't afford it. My wife and I did eventually acquire a small Thompson oil on paper done in Europe in 1963 with great color and some quintessential Thompson bird-like figures and mythological creatures. There is a small painting on canvas that it relates to -- some of the figures are repeated exactly. That painting, "The Search," is in the Whitney monograph -- figure 96 on page 120.

Sorry to ramble. Thompson is a real passion of mine.

Edited by Mark Stryker

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