First published: Winter 2019
The American painter occupies a strong position in today’s religious and political thinking, and his viewpoints shape his art
In an age of extremism, the art of William Thomas Thompson (b. 1935) extends above and beyond the merely unconventional. His political and religious beliefs are neither on the extreme right nor the extreme left. While the messages of other apocalyptic artists of a fundamentalist-Christian orientation may appear to be coming from a similar place, none have spelled themselves out as explicitly as those within the texts that appear in Thompson’s paintings, particularly his seven most recently created works.
The Toxic Dollar, A Weapon of Mass Destruction, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 15 x 12 ft / 4.6 x 3.7 m
Thompson, who lives in Greenville, South Carolina, began his career in 1961 as a wholesaler of artificial flowers, built up a million-dollar business in the United States, and then expanded his enterprise to Hong Kong. However, through a series of financial downturns, his business collapsed in the 1980s. As a result, he believes his psychological well-being suffered and led to his developing Guillan-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder. While attending a Sunday church service in Hawaii, 1989, he recalled, “I saw a vision of the coming of the Lord and the world on fire on July 6, 1989.” Thompson regards his epiphany, he said, “as an unmistakable command to paint what I saw”. Since then, he has produced thousands of paintings. He noted, “I feel spiritually motivated to paint the truth condemning the world system as the spirit enlightens me to the pitfalls laid down by the Antichrist.”
Not one to be swept up in the voluptuous materialism of painterly realism, he never attempted to practise a formal technique. Instead, his work offers the raw realism of spontaneous expression – rough images by an artist whose brushstrokes reflect the tremors caused by a neurological condition that causes pain and weakness in his hands, and has paralysed Thompson below the knees.