Ornette

Bob Thompson

1960-1961

Ornette is a portrait and tribute to Bob Thompson’s friend Ornette Coleman, the great jazz musician and composer. Coleman, along with fellow saxophonist John Coltrane, pioneered improvisation as a means of creating music. Thompson often attended performances by various jazz artists and relied upon music for direct inspiration. 

In Ornette, Thompson depicts Coleman at the center of a swirling composition, his face seen from four vantage points: one frontal, two in profile, and one seen from above. Emanating from Coleman’s visage are female forms in a variety of poses—lounging in the landscape. These loosely articulated figures are visual “sounds,” Thompson’s effort to picture how jazz might appear in the mind of a musician. 

Fueled by jazz and his travels in Europe, Thompson lived and worked with an emotional intensity remarkable even among his peers. During a career that lasted only seven years (he succumbed to drug addiction at the age of 29), Thompson created more than 1,000 paintings.

  • Titles Ornette (Proper)
  • Artist Bob Thompson, American, 1937 - 1966
  • Medium oil on canvas
  • Dimensions 80 7/8 × 77 5/8 in. (205.4 × 197.2 cm) frame: 82 × 78 3/4 × 2 1/8 in. (208.3 × 200 × 5.4 cm)
  • Credit Line Museum purchase with funds provided by the Junior Patrons of the Birmingham Museum of Art, 2002.129, image © Estate of Bob Thompson; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
  • Work Type painting
  • Classification Paintings