Bob Thompson’s The Sack (The Snook), 1961, is a drama of bold exaggerations, highlighted by the artist’s use of assertive, and unmodulated colors. Hindman is proud to offer this work as lot 49 in our May 21st, Post War and Contemporary Art Auction.
Thompson’s short, dynamic, career began in the late 1950s and ended in his premature death less than a decade later. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thompson studied briefly at Boston University and at the University of Louisville. On the advice of a teacher, in the summer of 1958 he traveled to Provincetown, where he was introduced to the expressive figurative work of Jan Muller, Hans Hofmann and Red Grooms. Later in 1958, Thompson migrated to New York, where he quickly arrived at his iconic style.
Using as a springboard the dynamism of classical scenes by artists such as Piero della Francesca, Nicolas Poussin, and Tintoretto, Thompson transformed their compositions into simplified, abstracted forms applied with flat, bright color fields. The Sack (The Snook) highlights the singular aspects of Thompson’s mature style. Executed in Paris, where Thompson and his wife had settled in 1961 thanks to a Walter Guttman Foundation grant, the collage-like painting depicts an enigmatic scene, with its silhouetted figures and vivid colors. Although the exact inspiration for this artwork is unknown, Thompson frequently drew on Greco-Roman mythology and the Bible, as well as appropriating material from Classical paintings. He turned this subject matter into his own vision of contemporary allegorical nightmares.
In The Sack (The Snook), two mysterious figures in hats enrobe a third in a black sack. To their right, two other figures appear to have thrust a person head-first into a purple sack. Additional ambiguous figures populate the mid-ground. The scene takes place against a shallow, compressed space that calls attention to the picture plane. The flattened forms and silhouettes evoke the undulating rhythms and syncopated movement found in jazz music, which Thompson deeply admired. Together, these elements combine to create an abstracted, dreamlike atmosphere that renders place and time indistinct.