The Judgement Bob Thompson
Date: 1963 Style: Contemporary Media: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 60 x 80in.
Location: The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, USA
When you look at the figures in this painting, what or better yet, who do you see?
Is there a specific figure who your eyes drift to or something else?
Not necessarily because I am a religious person, but what captures my attention when it comes to this piece are all the sets of wings that I can spot and it is the angelic figures that are of most interest to me. And personally, upon learning about Thompson's work and celebrating the Lenton Season as a practicing Catholic, I can't help but meditate on this piece.
In the Last Judgment, we see a nude male trio that sits before faceless winged female angels while two figures (at left) await judgment. And if we look around the painting, we see other creatures that happen to have wings, just as the angels. We can see two bird-like creatures and near the upper right corner, a winged person is flying above in the air but one interesting thing about this certain figure is that unlike its counterparts who are standing next to the humans on the ground, it has no solid body. Thompson creates this winged person in the sky with a degrading outline and I wonder, what makes this figure different?
As mentioned before, I meditated on this piece and have my own synopsis but before I share it, I'd like to touch on Thompson's career as I have done before with other artists who I have written about in the past blog posts.
Thompson was born near Louisville, Kentucky, and studied at the University of Louisville and at Boston University. In the early and mid-1960s, he traveled throughout Europe and experienced many Renaissance paintings that depicted religious images which would later influence his work where he experimented with fusing the vigor and vibrancy of Expressionism with themes from Old Master compositions and the vivid palette of Fauve painting to create vibrancy in many of his own religious paintings. (Examples below)
Thompsons has once stated that “[he painted many paintings that tell him slowly that he has something inside of himself] that is just bursting, twisting, sticking, spilling over to get out. Out into souls and mouths and eyes that have never seen before. The Monsters are [present now on his canvas as in his dreams. …]”. There are recurring figures in Thompson's work and we have come to learn that in his vision, nude female figures express nature’s sensuality, while birds symbolize power and freedom as well as his preoccupation with the ultimate flight of death. Whether sensual, spiritual, or tortured, Thompson’s paintings are metaphors of both the rational and irrational forces of nature. Forces that he feels must be displayed to individuals that have not had the experience that he has encountered, the individuals who lack the spiritual knowledge that he has gained during his hectic life.
Thompson was a black man who took up creating his own renditions of religious depictions and I feel his need for representation when I look at his art. He wanted color, curves, multiple tones, he wanted there to be difference. If you were to compare a piece such as by Michelangelo, then this difference can be immediate to see and even feel. There is a dark emotion escaping from Thompsons' pieces, one that suffers.
In The Judgement, I think about what Thompson may have been feeling while he painted the trio who awaited to learn their fate. Did he image himself as one of the individuals? The thought of what comes after death can be quite provoking when it comes to curiosity and faith. It can cause discomfort for some individuals and this may be because they are encouraged to think about their past deeds. Deeds, thoughts, and feelings that may cause pain, regret, and even fear. Perhaps one thought that also occurs for some is whether judgment will be just for all. I've mentioned that the number of wings in this painting impresses me and that's because personally when I think of heaven, I do happen to think about the conception of heavingly beings and an endless sky.
The three figures who are placed to the right of the Angelic beings are awaiting their judgment while sitting on a horse; the figures to the left are sitting on a bird, this may mean that they have been judged eligible for Heaven and will soon be lifted to the sky and will go off to enter the gates of Heaven.
When I look at this painting, I am caused to think about my life. About my past, present and future. I am caused to think about my inner thoughts and actions. I am caused to think about God and the things that I do not know about. About the relationships that I have, physical and emotional- with people and the world around me.