‘[Thompson] forces us to consider that all creative work, in any sphere, must find its own coordinates if it is to be released from the contagion of unexamined reaction. His work engages the structural mandate without submitting to automatism; systems and structures are treated as generative tools’ (A, Lauterbach, “On Cheyney Thompson: The Task of Art in the Age of Information,” Cheyney Thompson, London, 2013, p. 175).
Comprising two large-scale canvases decked with beautifully painted letters, Untitled (2010) is a fascinating example of Cheyney Thompson’s conceptually driven practice. The work is presented in the art historical format of a diptych, intentionally chosen by the artist to convey his long-standing engagement with the history of painting. Each panel displays a beautiful array of black or blue letters, symmetrically distributed across the white canvases, reminiscent of classical calligraphic traditions. The paint, applied in delicate brushstrokes, follows a stencil which delineates its contour, invoking a recurrent subject in Thompson’s work: the calligraphic ‘R’, initial of the name ‘Robert Macaire’, a fictional character of French satire, who has come to denote villainy and deception. Thompson employs the figure of Macaire to address the transformations that the capitalist system has triggered in the last few decades. In Untitled the artist mimics the economy that had long been the driving force of capitalist culture, i.e. industrial manufacturing, and has then gradually been replaced by the economy of financial markets. Referring to this political idea, each letter that occupies the canvases serves to explain Thompson’s insistence on the quantification of labour time necessary to produce them. The rigorous system employed by the artist aims at producing paintings ‘which register fatigue, distraction, and interruptions’ as well as the incessant flow of time itself (C. Thompson, statement for the exhibition Motifs, /Robert/, Paul de Casteljau, Socles, Menarches, Chronochromes, Brussels, September 2010). Thompson’s work is internationally acclaimed and is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.