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Galerie Lelong & Co., New York, is pleased to present Throughlines: Assemblages and Works on Paper from the 1960s to the 1990s, our second solo exhibition of works by Mildred Thompson and the late artist’s first presentation of this body of work in New York. A selected survey of the artist’s sculptural practice over four decades, Throughlines begins at the moment of Thompson’s first mature body of work. Her Wood Pictures began in New York and further developed in Düren, Germany during Thompson’s self-imposed exile. Thompson’s foray in experimenting with wood continued throughout her life and informed the development of her abstract language, as evinced in her sculptures, works on paper, and paintings.
After receiving early recognition during her studies in the US and Germany, Thompson returned to New York in 1961, eager to begin her professional practice. However, her encounters with racism and sexism led her to return to Europe three years later. Over the next 13 years, she worked and participated in notable museum and gallery presentations in Aachen, Cologne, and Düren in Germany as well as in France.
Thompson’s intimate reliefs of wood and found material soon evolved to two and three-dimensional collages, including elegantly staged outdoor installations of wood assemblages nailed to trees. For the artist, the material’s texture, shape, and form gave Thompson multiple entry points to create metaphorical connections across history and memory, individuality and universality. Some works, such as Stele, c.1963, reveal Thompson’s early use of color in her practice.
Thompson continued to investigate her body of work in wood during her return to the US in the late 1970s. The minimalist works continued her exploration with found and manipulated wood, yet were more often made in a consistently larger scale than her earlier assemblages. Further pushing the medium, Thompson began experimenting more widely in three dimensions. Simultaneously in the 1990s, Thompson began her Music of the Spheres paintings which endeavored to make visible the sound and vibrational patterns found in planetary orbits and astrophysics. The freestanding wood works on view created during this period resemble the inner bodies of pianos and violins hidden from the musician’s eye, their curves and linearities eliciting an emotional tone.
Thompson’s works on paper reveal a continuum in her practice through an inquiry of spatial structures. Created in the 1970s, Thompson sought to represent both physical and cosmological spaces in her “architectural studies” etchings, as well as in her silkscreen prints on paper where segmented forms in warm tones of burnt orange, mustard, violet, and forest green parallel the compositions and tonality of her Wood Pictures.
In a period when African American artists primarily worked in figuration and representation, Thompson championed a dynamic language of abstraction. The artist’s early experimentation in creating complex juxtapositions laid the groundwork for her signature style—from her Wood Pictures of the 60s to the vibrant paintings of the 90s for which she became known.