Lex Thompson

Lex Thompson’s work examines aspects of American intellectual and cultural history in relationship to contemporary thought. Obtaining a BA in History at New College of Florida and a MA in Religion and Visual Arts at Yale University, he received his MFA in Photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. He is Professor of Art (Photography) at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. He is recipient of a 2010 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Photographers, a 2008, 2011, 2016 & 2018 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, and was selected as a 2009 Flash Forward Emerging Photographer and shortlisted for the 2014 Source-Cord Prize. His project Frame Drag was included in the Midwest Photographer’s Project at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. His artwork is included in collections at the Getty Research Institute, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Stanford University, University of California Los Angeles, and Yale University, among others.

The Ethics of the Dust

In John Ruskin’s The Ethics of the Dust, a Socratic-style dialog set in a girl’s boarding school, the “Old Lecturer” character (a thinly veiled stand-in for Ruskin) masks lessons in ethics and aesthetics with instruction on crystallography. Minerals in the text take on a will and personal agency, stopping just shy (most of the time) of being anthropomorphized. He ties together the natural process of dissolution and growth in minerals to the personal and ethical growth of the individual, both of which are a means of developing beauty.

In this series of photographs I utilize a number of approaches to building on Ruskin’s mixing of aesthetic contemplation with a view of the world that blends the inanimate and the living. I make portraits of crystals that invoke the characters of his students in period rooms at museums and historic homes, interiors that echo the space of the fictional instruction and further aestheticize the mineral specimens. In The Geology of Nocturne in Black and Gold, images of phosphorescent rocks take their name from a Whistler painting derided by Ruskin, because of his dislike of bright colors against dark backgrounds, like the fireworks in Whistler’s painting. Yet, the minerals become transformed into an otherworldly chromatic experience that connects to the cosmic origins of the earth. In other images, I have applied contemporary interior decoration processes using hardware store paint chips to match blue minerals and paint their wall and shelves in minimal still lives. The aestheticizing of minerals continues in the images of stacks of agate slices and the candy boxes filled with polished rocks.

To view more of Lex Thompson’s work please visit his website.