Meta Mouse: Conor Thompson @ The Middler

the-mouse Conor Thompson, The Mouse, 2016, oil on canvas, 48 x 80 in. 

By Til Will

At some indiscernible time of the afternoon my phone made a loud *DING* from the corner of my studio. Distracted, I looked down at it; an email with the title “DUDE.” from Debbi. Of course, with a title like that, it had to be breaking news.

The gist was something along the lines of…“I just met this guy that runs a gallery out of his house…he’s having an opening tonight and I told him you’d go.”

Mission assigned.

Later on, after slurping a lava-hot cheese slice at some joint where the guy kept barking about his honda, I was off. 

Damn that was hot.

I arrived on the third floor to a kitchen full of people. Breaking through—there was the show: above the couch, strewn on the coffee table, and on one wall of a fully operational bedroom. I considered the effort I had made last year to make my living room into a space that looked and felt like a gallery. I thought of all the white-walled-well-lit apartment spaces I’d seen: Two Shelves, Orgy Park, Mehoyas Gallery. This place was on a whole new plane of chill-pad-as-exhibition.


Who had brewed this social stew? I scanned, and within seconds it was clear; the guy was slick. Anthony Atlas, the gallerist, wore a little gold chain popped from behind his entirely unwrinkled plain T. He noticed me, the stranger, and gave a warm welcome, explaining that this painting, the papers on the table, and the painting in the bedroom were, in fact, the show

untitled-mouse-no-11Conor Thompson, Untitled (Mouse no. 11), 2016, charcoal on paper, 11 x 15 in. 

The work was the scene of an elaborate mousetrap—a meat cleaver suspended by a string, the mouse taunting the viewer, holding its long tail like a fishing line. In the foreground, there’s a dummy propped up with a canvas frame and another knife. Blue gloves and a palette; we’re in the artist’s studio.

Conor Thompson, The Mouse (details)2016, oil on canvas, 48 x 80 in. 

This mouse is an elusive beast, and this artist has gone full Rube Goldberg to catch it—dead or alive. But what is this mouse? And can it be caught?

It made me consider my own art practice:

That mouse is gonna lead me down every crack and crevice; I’ll devise every plan known to man to get him. Soon, It’ll be my sole purpose to catch that mouse—and if I ever do, there is no point for me to keep existing. 

But truth is: I enjoy chasin’ that s.o.b.

From "The Mouse" at the Middler, 2017.Conor Thompson, Untitled (Mouse No. 1), 2016, charcoal on paper, 18 x 30 in.


Conor Thompson has unearthed the ultimate moral dilemma of painting: futility. Mouse evades trap; mouse is confident; mouse is unflinching; mouse mocks. It’s clear that no matter how the mouse hunter tries, the mouse can’t be caught. Thompson appears to be commenting on the validity of painting. Using the metaphor of mouse and mousetrap, he begs the question: is this a waste of energy? Why not just let the mouse be and move on?

But that mouse won’t let you leave it alone. An artist must always tend to the mice. Prioritize your mice, because you’ve got to sort them out in order to deal with anything else. Even if you don’t catch the mice, you have still done your due diligence to keep them at bay. Every once in awhile, someone will stop to look at your nurtured obsession with catching mice; they’ll see a new way they hadn’t thought to catch theirs.

The Mouse self deprecates; the painter is a fool fussing over a pest. In too deep, the painter can’t back down. It’s a wry statement over the pursuit of (_____). The pursuit seems to be where Thompson is, and wants us to be.

The Mouse is on view through March 11 by appointment only. The Middler hosts exhibitions on a seasonal basis. Visit for more information.

Meta Mouse: Conor Thompson @ The Middler

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