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Bob Thompson papers, 1949-2005

Biographical Note

Bob Thompson (1937-1966) was an African American figurative painter who worked primarily in New York City.
Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1937. He attended Boston University as a pre-med student, but quit the program and returned to Kentucky to attend the University of Louisville and study painting under German expressionist artist Ulfert Wilke. As a student, he spent a summer in Provincetown, Massachusetts and immersed himself in the art communities there. In 1958, Thompson moved to New York City and reunited with several artists he had met in Provincetown and participated in some of the earliest "happenings," somewhat informal art events or gatherings usually involving performance art and music, in 1960. He became a regular at the jazz clubs The Five Spot and Slugs and became friends with several jazz musicians. Many of Thompson's paintings reflect his interest in jazz. He also formed friendships with writers Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones. In 1960, he had his first solo exhibition at the Delancy Street Museum.
The same year as his first solo exhibition, Thompson married Carol Plenda and the couple lived in Paris from 1961-1962 after he received a Whitney Foundation fellowship. They lived in Ibiza, Spain the following year. Thompson painted prolifically while abroad, and when he returned to New York City in 1963, he brought many paintings with him. He quickly found representation by Martha Jackson Gallery and the gallery featured Thompson's work in solo exhibitions in 1963-1965. His reputation grew and more exhibitions across the country followed.
In late 1965, Thompson and his wife traveled to Rome, Italy, where he continued to study art and paint. Thompson died in Rome in 1966 at the age of 28 from a drug overdose not long after receiving gall bladder surgery.