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.