African American Artists during the Twentieth Century
Bob Thompson, Enchanted Rider (c. 1962–1963). Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. / Art Resource, NY
If it can be said that traditional African art was a prominent source for many black artists working during the middle of the last century, it must also be noted that the history of European art provided these artists with another great tradition to draw upon as well. The work of Bob Thompson, a largely self-taught painter and musician working in New York and Europe during the1960s, demonstrates a focused interest in the art of the Italian Renaissance, in particular the work of Massaccio and Piero della Francesca, as well as later European artists like Poussin, Goya, and El Greco. In addition to adapting themes and compositional strategies from these earlier artists, works by Thompson also communicate a personal visual vocabulary of significant signs and symbols. In Enchanted Rider, for example, the form of a large red bird with its wings spread wide dominates the background of the painting, shadowing the figure of a man astride a winged horse. Thompson often included the form of the red bird in his paintings, leading some viewers to speculate that it is a symbol of the artist himself.