Bob Thompson: So let us all be citizens

Curator’s note by Ebony L. Haynes. Text by Rashid Johnson


A colorful, fantastical, and musical body of work by the painter Bob Thompson


“Thompson, who finally seems to be on fame’s doorstep, invents in much the same way: he makes you feel how it might have felt to see a picture of an angel for the first time.” —The New Yorker


Influenced by jazz, Bob Thompson painted spirited, colorful compositions that feature an interplay of bodies, allegories, and natural landscapes while reconfiguring European masterworks. Though his career as a painter spanned only a brief period, from 1958 to his untimely death at age twenty-eight, Thompson left behind a singular and influential body of figurative work that remains vitally resonant. Looking at his particular consideration of color, line, and figuration—developed during a period when abstraction was the dominant trend in American art—this intimate exhibition catalogue, the seventh volume in the Clarion series, pays homage to the friction Thompson generated between his proximity to and deviation from canonical sources. 


The phrase “So let us all be citizens,” taken from a speech the artist gave as a teenager, forecasted his passion for the tenets of freedom and expression, and encapsulates the power of Thompson’s work in widening the scope of what is imaginable in contemporary painting and who might engage with it. With an introduction by Ebony L. Haynes and an essay by the renowned artist Rashid Johnson, this publication expands upon Thompson’s dynamic practice and features works that spotlight his signature high-contrast palette.


Publisher: David Zwirner Books/52 Walker

Contributors: Clarion, Bob Thompson, Ebony L. Haynes, Rashid Johnson

Designer: Andrea Hyde

Printer: VeronaLibri, Verona

Publication Date: 2024

Binding: Hardcover

Dimensions: 6.5 × 9.25 in | 16.5 × 23.2 cm

Pages: 96

Reproductions: 35 illustrations

ISBN: 9781644231265

Retail: $35 | $47 CAN | £25

Status: Not Yet Published


The Clarion series of illustrated publications is positioned as an extension of each exhibition at the groundbreaking gallery space 52 Walker, curated by Ebony L. Haynes. The program focuses on showcasing conceptual and research-based artists from a range of backgrounds and at various stages in their careers. The series title is derived from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, the oldest of its kind, at the University of California, San Diego. Octavia Butler attended this workshop in the 1970s. Butler’s writing has been influential in the conceptual framework of the program and the Clarion series. With a sleek design influenced by encyclopedias, each publication features color reproductions of the works on view, alongside an introduction by Haynes, commissioned essays, artist texts, archival materials, and more.

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Bob Thompson

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Robert “Bob” Thompson (1937–1966) studied art at the University of Louisville. After his sophomore year, Thompson spent a summer painting in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Around 1959, Thompson moved to New York, where he mingled with jazz musicians and encountered Allan Kaprow’s Happenings as well as other developments in conceptual art; however, the artist would eschew these experimentations to engage more intimately with works by the established masters of European art history. After mounting his first solo exhibition in New York at Red Grooms’s Delancey Street Museum in 1960, Thompson received a grant to go to Europe; he would travel to and settle in Paris, Ibiza, and Rome for short periods of time, viewing works of art at museums and galleries while maintaining his studio practice. He returned to New York in 1963 and joined Martha Jackson Gallery, where he presented solo shows in 1963 and 1965. He traveled to Rome in 1965, and after being hospitalized for appendicitis, he died in Italy at the age of twenty-eight.

Ebony L. Haynes

Ebony L. Haynes is a writer and curator from Toronto. She is based in New York, where she is a director at David Zwirner. Haynes is a visiting curator and critic at the Yale School of Art in the painting and printmaking class of 2021. She also runs an online “school” that offers free professional practice classes to Black students worldwide. 

Rashid Johnson

Born in Chicago in 1977, Rashid Johnson is among an influential cadre of contemporary American artists whose work employs a wide range of media to explore themes of art history, individual and shared cultural identities, personal narratives, literature, philosophy, materiality, and critical history. Johnson received a BA in Photography from Columbia College in Chicago and studied for his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.