Thursday, 3 March 2016

Jon Thompson, 1936 - 2016

Jon Thompson, The Toronto Cycle # 19, Cadence and Discord (HM) Traer los Sentidos,
JonThompson died February 2016.
Artist, curator, educator, writer, Thompson was a remarkable person. 
Jon Thompson was long associated with Goldsmiths’ College where he was successively, from 1968, Lecturer, Head of Painting (1970-71), Head of Fine Art (1972), Principal of Art School (1973-80), Dean of the School of Art (1980-85) and Head of Post-Grad Fine Art Studies (1985-89). It was during his years as Principal and Dean that he instigated changes in the curriculum and departmental structure at Goldsmiths which are credited with nurturing the generation of artists who became the YBAs and established Goldsmiths as a leading British art school. Michael Craig-Martin, who worked alongside Thompson, describes the changes in his recent book On Being an Artist (2015): “Jon was visionary and radical… Before I joined [in 1973], Jon had already taken the crucial decision that would make Goldsmiths fundamentally different from most other art schools… [H]e abolished the division between mediums. There were no separate departments of painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, film and video: there was only one department, fine art… [S]tudents had the freedom not only to choose what they did, but also to change direction and medium mid-course… students were responsible for structuring their own course in conjunction with their tutor.” (pp142-4) The artists who graduated in the 1980s, and were to become the YBAs, are notable for their adaptable approach to artmaking, finding the best means for executing their ideas rather than more narrowly mastering a particular medium.
In Thompson’s own practice he moved from painting to sculpture and conceptual art and back to painting – all exquisitely executed with a fine attention to detail.
Thompson was responsible (along with Barry Barker) for curating two particularly remarkable exhibitions: Falls the Shadow (1986) and Gravity and Grace (1993). Both were notable for the poetic intelligence of their selection and their strikingly European sensibility – they presented a range of significant artists who were otherwise little evident on the British art scene (which, perhaps, tended to be either parochial in its gaze or in thrall to America.) Falls the Shadow included Lothar Baumgarten, Marcel Broodthaers, Luciano Fabro, Rebecca Horn, Jannis Kounellis, Wolfgang Laib, Ulrich Ruckreim amongst others; Gravity and Grace did include a handful of Americans – Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra and Robert Smithson – but was otherwise dominated by British and European figures – Joseph Beuys, Luciano Fabro, Barry Flanagan, Eva Hesse, Mario Merz, Panamarenko, and Gilberto Zorio amongst them. (The catalogues, too, are beautiful.)
Fittingly, given his evident Europhilia, after retiring from Goldsmiths Thomson went on to be Head of Department of Fine Art, and Reader, at the Jan van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht, before returning to the UK as Research Professor at Middlesex University.
Thompson was a prolific and erudite writer: happily, his work is available in The Collected Writings of Jon Thompson, edited by Jeremy Akerman and Eileen Daly (2011), London: Ridinghouse.
I knew Thompson a little, in the 1980s, when I worked at Goldsmiths: one of the things that deeply impressed me about him – apart from his erudition and charisma – was his remarkable social adaptability: he appeared to be as comfortable having a smoke with the college porters, playing pool in the bar with students, chatting to me sitting in the upstairs, front seats of the No.36 bus, as he was engaging in intellectual debate and critique and, all the while, smoothly managing a University department – having encountered many art school managers in my time I recognise these to be very rare qualities indeed.

Read an obituary by Nicholas de Ville, one of Thompson's former colleague at Goldmiths'.

Jon Thompson, Cascia, 2007

Jon Thompson, The Toronto Cycle #2, The Beach Midday Sunlight, 2008

Jon Thompson, The Toronto Cycle #6, Northern Lights, Red, 2009

Jon Thompson, The Tornonto Cycle #17, Cadence and Discord (PC) Traer los Sentidos, 2010-2011

Jon Thompson, Simple Paintings – Thinking About Poussin, 2013

Jon Thompson, Simple Paintings – Sky Blue Cruciform (Benjamin's Doors), 2012/13

Jon Thompson, The Lyotard Suite – Sponge, 2014


  1. Hi,
    why hasn't there been an obituary in the Guardian, Times or Telegraph, there must be thousands of people who knew and admired him.I first met him when he started his lecturing career on a fellowship at Lancaster School of Art in 1962/3.

  2. I am very sad to read this, I didn't know until this very moment. I was working with him at the Jan-van-Eyck-Academie in the Netherlands in the 90s. He will always be unforgettable for me, especially his non-judgemental and non-paternalistic approach to young artists like me.