Robert Henry Thompson

Artist/Painter Male Key West, Florida, US
Mayhem # 755504

About Me

this is old and out dated. I just thought I would post this for now. Not really worth reading.

A Profile of Robert Henry Thompson by Chris Packham 2004

Robert Henry Thompson is an unlikely confluence of drives - a skilled painter engaged with the development of a surreal, occasionally satirical sensibility, he's also an entrepreneur. Since he was 20, Thompson has been starting businesses, mostly centered around the hub of his prodigious artistic output. In 2002, he started a lithographic publishing company called Sachs/Behnisch publishing. That same year, he opened the late Panacea Gallery, in Kansas City's West Bottoms. He does commissioned work, and has created the interior designs for night clubs and restaurants.

Thompson's suburban upbringing had a complicated influence on his artistic development. "I grew up in a great home - but I was surrounded by a lot of very well-to-do people, who, in my opinion, have a misconception about what life is really about, and what true success is," Thompson says. "And being in that environment my whole life, going to quality schools and being low-man on the totem pole - not having a brand-new car, not having all that, and wanting it then without realizing how materialistic and superficial those things were."

At the same time, his parents encouraged his interest in art, and - perhaps accidentally - fostered an ambition that grew into a prolific painting career. "My parents didn't put any real restrictions on me. They didn't want me to run wild, but they let me do what I wanted. My room had so many different hooks in the ceiling, because everything was hung at these random angles, and it was all messed-up - I painted on the walls, I had murals on the walls that I changed constantly."

"I didn't go to art school," he says. "I was a self-taught painter. I won a lot of awards in junior high and high school for my sculpture and photography. And painting was just something I did that was a lot cleaner than sculpture, so I could do that at my house, and I did sculpture at school.

"I took classes when I was seven years old, in ceramics. And I've done steel sculptures that were on installation at Johnson County Community College. I've done wood sculptures that have won national awards. "

One measure of this contradictory influence is a striking nude at Kansas City's Kabal night club. Originally painted for a restaurant in Overland Park, Thompson says, "It's a parody of Johnson County Women - it's called Waking Up From a Dream to False Perfection. Because the bar was in Johnson County, I thought it would be great to play off the image, or the stigma, of the area. So she has high cheekbones, big eyes, silky hair, all the attributes - big boobs - everything superficial women want. It was just making fun, more or less, of the restaurant's clientèle."

The painting is definitive of Thompson's style in another respect: he is skilled with realistic rendering, but totally unconstricted by it. Instead, Thompson recontextualizes recognizable figures of the real world, evoking in the viewer a sense of lucid dreaming. Thompson, who has an innate skill for creating art intended to occupy a specific space, considered the physical environment of the restaurant, and the exact spot where the painting would hang: "I painted that for the lighting in the area where it hung, so when you looked at it in the original space, all the light and shadows came on the wall and wrapped around the painting in the exact way they did in the room."

He points out another painting at Kabal, much less polished, a quickly-executed piece that constitutes more of a sketch. "This painting accomplishes an idea - playing off René Magritte and Benjamin Franklin - it's Benjamin Franklin dressed in a Magritte bowler-hat outfit, flying a boulder instead of a kite. It's a funny idea, but the painting doesn't reflect my ability at all, other than the color selection. For the most part, it's just a fun idea."

That represents Thompson's pragmatic side: "Not every painting I make is perfect - you don't listen to a CD and hear 10 good songs, you hear 3 good songs, and a bunch of okay songs. It's just part of being an artist, being creative. There are paintings that I finish, and I like them, I feel like they represent what I do - I'm at a point where I just know to walk away."

The centerpiece of the upper floor at Kabal is a four-sided column that depicts a single woman from four respective angles, a single narrow canvas on each side. In the painting, the woman holds a flower above her head. "This one is True Love Waits, named after a Radiohead song. The only thing that changes - all the wrinkles in the fabric, the figure, are the same all the way around - and the only thing that changes is the flower it's unbloomed on the back, and blooming on the front. So that's kind of like what I wanted to be the centerpiece of the restaurant, but it was going to take patience to make it work.

The work he did at Kabal is not Thompson's only restaurant design. "I currently split my time between Key West and here. Key West is a small town. It's fun, but it's not a place to try to be civilized. I opened a restaurant with a few friends. I designed their entire interior. When I'm down there, I do everything from cook to maitre'd - everything. And I find a little bit of time to do my artwork as well. The restaurant is called Santiago's Bodega. It's Greek tapas, a little bit of French cuisine, a little bit of American.

"We had a nice mention in the New York Times about 5 months ago, about being one of the Key West hot-spots. We won the "Best Start-Up of the Year," from the Chamber of Commerce - and we're in the worst corner of the entire island. There's drug-deals going on constantly."

Now Thompson is considering returning to Kansas City, and making occasional visits to the restaurant in Key West. "I was playing with the idea of getting into night-club and restaurant design, and I've done a handful of them, but I'm not totally sure I want to pursue that full-time, or try to start up a furniture company. And then I have to have a social life, so it makes for a tight schedule."


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