Davi Det Hompson was associated with Fluxus during the late 1960s and ’70s, and received international attention for text-based posters, artist’s books and mail art. Hompson demonstrated an intuitive understanding of linguistics and often highlighted the visuality of letters and words. (His treatment of language as material can be seen with his own name, Davi Det Hompson, a nom d ‘art for David E. Thompson.) In his text pieces, the artist consistently wheedled, entertained and disrupted—always with the Fluxus aim of producing a sense of immediacy for the viewer.
For about nine years prior to his untimely death, at age 57, in 1996, Hompson focused his studio practice on nonobjective painting. His beginnings in the neo-Dadaist strategies of Fluxus and his later devotion to abstract painting, however, were not as antithetical as one might expect. The relation between them was succinctly and inventively presented in a recent exhibition at ZieherSmith, “Sure Sure Davi Det Hompson: 1976-1995.” Curated by Dakin Hart, with the assistance of Hompson’s wife, Nancy Thompson, the exhibition juxtaposed two bodies of work: 21 booklets of statements and pithy anecdotes assembled by Hompson between 1976 and 1979; and 27 nonobjective paintings made between 1987 and 1995. Each booklet was left open to a particular spread and displayed on a 5- to 6-foot-tall metal stand; the stands were dispersed across the floor. The texts suggested the casual chatter at a gallery opening. One read: “A university art instructor, after reading a showing of my writings, lit his pipe and said, ‘Please tell me. Do you think I should continue to paint?'” And another: “When I was a kid my vision deteriorated so rapidly that I practiced walking with my eyes shut.” The paintings, hung on the walls, surrounded the booklets. From various angles in the gallery, the installation permitted simultaneous viewing of both bodies of work; when this occurred, the signs appeared in the foreground, suggesting a privileged position over the paintings. This perspective provided a glimpse at how anti-art strategies anchored in the play of language informed a practice operating within the late history of traditional esthetics.
While Hompson’s approach to painting served as a synthesis of modernist and postmodernist ideas, it also, particularly as it evolved, embodied the same values of immediacy that were seen in his text works. The paintings in this show all have box-like supports, which suggest rough-cut slabs of stone or ancient tablets, and smooth encaustic surfaces built up on stretched burlap. In canvases from 1989 and 1990, Hompson painted or inscribed abstract figures, such as looping lines and finial- or winglike shapes, into the compositions. Subsequently, in a Dada-esque gesture, he did away with semiotic distractions and began creating neutral monochromes. He recognized that the support—with its shape, bulk and texture—and the austere wax skin he applied to it could be the painting, and that additional compositional detail was unnecessary. Drawing became the formation of irregular edges at the perimeters of the compositions, where the melted wax was left rough. Ultimately, these paintings function as existential mirrors, offering not reflections of the viewers themselves but moments of encounter.
PHOTO: View of “Sure Sure Davi Det Hompson: 1976-1995”; at ZieherSmith.