Rob Thom: The Beast

M+B is pleased to present The Beast, an exhibition of new paintings by Rob Thom. This is the artist's first solo show at the gallery and is his long-awaited return to Los Angeles. The exhibition will run from April 6 through May 11, 2019, with an opening reception on Saturday, April 6 from 6 to 8 pm. 

"In reading The History of Nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities, their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do." 
― Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841)

"He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
― Samuel Johnson 

Here are the crowds. Caught in harsh sunlight by the pool with their heads bent stageward in awe of bikini-clad bods writhing in the sun. Stuck in traffic whilst the wild animals overrun the safari park. Clapping on the sidelines with a giant smirking crab mascot whilst the racers grunt and flail as they sprint down the track, faces contorting with strain. At the wrestling match, it’s hard to tell the costumed performers from the crowd except the latter clutch their cell phones snapshotting the antics of the former. Strolling beneath the line of cheap prizes dangling with garish allure from the carney game.

Never stay too long at the carnival, the crowds will start to get to you. Rather than forgetting one’s troubles in the thrill of energy and light, you start to see the troubles of all these herded animals, of the mess we’ve made. Every sweaty adult and teary child with their dirty white sneakers and sun visors, khaki shorts and gleaming bald heads, the cavalcade with their facile desires and bumper-stickered cars. You get worn down and it all gets distorted, caught in a funhouse mirror. Bodies warped, contours quivering, lines askew. Colors soften and fade with corruption. But everyone here and everywhere is a person. However gnarled, each and every a human has a face, is an individual caught in the masses. And so are you. And in his densely allegorical paintings, Rob Thom sees us all. 

In the crowds that throng his paintings, Rob Thom renders every face of this modern life with a terrible precision. Breughel's proverbial villagers as spring breakers, Paul Cadmus’ lusty sailors and coney-island babies brought forward a century, their rosey Rubenesque bods stretched and bent. Rob Thom’s people have fallen out of Hogarth and Daumier only to find themselves in the delusions and carnival grotesque of America last week. When James Ensor painted his masterpiece, “Christ Entering Brussels” (1889), the returning Jesus rode a modest donkey way in the back, almost lost in the beautiful, comic horror of the crowd that surrounds him. Rob Thom’s humans don’t need to wear carnival masks, their faces smirking and hollering, strained and desirous are uncanny enough. The kind of artful satire of the above historical artists found itself for a long while in the US hiding out in the pages of Mad Magazine foldouts and underground Zap Comix. Rob Thom has brought a particular carnival of American grotesque back onto canvas with wry humor, painstaking observation, and deft skill, every line convulses with the unreality of the delusion of where we find ourselves now. As the light flickers on with a blinding glare, Rob Thom captures the look on each of our faces caught in the crowd.


Rob Thom (b. 1975, Santa Barbara, CA) makes paintings that are keen observations of contemporary life. Touching upon the traditions of painting and art history, his compositions render everyday life and vagaries of the the human condition. Thom received his MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2004. His first solo exhibition was at the storied Chinatown gallery, Black Dragon Society, and his work was subsequently included in shows at Peres Projects in Berlin and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Rob Thom lives and works in Bainbridge Island, WA.

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