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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Gary Thompson - A Celebration of his Work

'Red Riding Wolf Performance' by Gary Thompson (pictured with Charlotte Tupper) - Inspired by the Paul Morrison Exhibition. 2009. For 'Making Conversation'.

Those of you in Manchester may have seen the headlines in the news about Gary Thompson, who was tragically killed in a tram accident last week. I want to share with you the Gary that I knew, my talented friend.

I met Gary six years ago when he joined my workshops 'Making Conversation' at Manchester Art Gallery, and has been attending ever since. During that time I have got to know him and witnessed the creation of his extraordinarily broad collection of work ranging from performance and poetry to sculpture and public guided tours on his favorite works in the gallery. Gary's work, like the man himself, has always been totally unique, bold, deeply honest and funny. Consistently giving a passionate expression of his views on the world and the work of other artists. Gary also gave me support with my own art work by attending my events outside of the gallery. But it is his strength, humour, our shared sneaky cigarette breaks, and countless cups of tea - "Black one sugar and a bit of cold water please Naomi" that I will probably miss the most.

Gary was a huge fan of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, in a recent e-mail to me he stated 'The whole world is Pre-Raphaelite'. I last saw Gary on Tuesday for 'Making Conversation' in which he created a performance in the Pre-Raphaelite gallery. Prior to the workshop he had given me a list of things to bring along for it, fake moustache, cigar, nursery books, dresses and a selection of hats amongst other things. He also sent me a script for the performance to print out. This was written from the perspective of a 19th century housewife, frustrated with her lot 'all I do is breed and cook' by the end of her monologue she realised all she needed was 'to learn and to create, to be creative'. Gary embraced this philosophy fully himself, it was what he needed and he was great at it.

I am sure others in the group, past and present, would agree that Gary fully embraced what 'Making Conversation' is about, and was right at the heart of it. His work often pushed the bar and inspired others to do the same. He was his own man, never really needing advice or prompts to create something, but he was also very much a part of the group. He was generous, caring and created some fantastic collaborations with others, who would be drawn into his performances as participants. His dance with Joyce, in response to the Kylie exhibition, and dressing Charlotte as a fairy to his red riding hood wolf, are amongst my favorites.

Out of hundreds of photographs documenting Gary's work in 'Making Conversation' over the years I have put together a selection below that I hope will demonstrate how talented and committed Gary was. He created with total honesty and his ideas were deeply felt, as such it is through what he made that I have learned the most about him. In recent years, thanks to his studies and volunteering work at Manchester Art Gallery and The imperial War museum I have seen Gary come into his own, full of ideas and confidence. He had so much more to give. Now I can only think of what we have been robbed of by losing Gary. The idea that I will never see him again, or continue to watch him grow as an artist, is utterly heartbreaking. I hope by looking through this documentation to one day be able to take comfort in all that he achieved and all that he gave me, and so very many others.

Gary made my job worthwhile, and yet working with him didn't feel like work in a way. He didn't need my intervention we were contemporaries. Somewhere down the line he became a friend, I couldn't tell you the point at which it happened, and though it makes this even more painful, I will be forever glad that it did.

If you would like to share your memories of Gary and his work, please get in touch, I can add your contributions to this Blog if you would like. Please re revisit to see further contributions and material as they are given to me in the future.

Gary's Art Bites' Tour of paintings; 'The Hireling Shepherd' and 'The Light of the World' both by William Holman Hunt. December 2011.

Pre-Raphaelite inspired Performance December 2011. For 'Making Conversation'.
'Pre-Raphaelite inspired Performance (with Adele as the wife)  December 2011.' For 'Making Conversation'.

'Here I lay in front of these fine things I never go out, never SEE THE WORLD AND NEVER UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF LIFE. I hear about this thing my husband does, he calls it work all I see are these fine things.

It’s the mid 19th century and I know nothing, what does this word technology mean? I don’t know what my purpose is? All I do is breed and cook. All these lovely things around me, where is my learning, does my husband want me to learn? He bought me an art piece, last week, a painting I don’t understand, it looks nice but am I meant to understand it?

It’s nice but can I learn anything from it, Autumn leaves is its title and then it hits me, I’ve never seen women like this, with long hair how dare they? It hits me, all I need is art, to teach me, all I need is stuff, anything to learn and to create, to be creative.'

'Pre-Raphaelite inspired Performance ( pictured with Adele, Tony and Naomi ) December 2011.' For 'Making Conversation'.

Prep for Pre-Raphaelite inspired Performance December 2011.' For 'Making Conversation'.
'Art Bites' Tour of paintings; 'The Hireling Shepherd' and 'The Light of the World' both by William Holman Hunt. Dec 2011. For 'Making Conversation'.
Art Bites' Tour of paintings; 'The Hireling Shepherd' and 'The Light of the World' both by William Holman Hunt. Dec 2011. For 'Making Conversation'.
'Making Conversation' (pictured with Kate Day and Naomi).
Sculpture with text - Inspired by the Anish Kapoor Exhibition Summer 2011. For 'Making Conversation'.
Sculpture with text - Inspired by the Anish Kapoor Exhibition Summer 2011. For 'Making Conversation'.
'Making Conversation' ( pictured with Naomi ).
Participating in some 'Sensory Speed Dating' ( pictured with Karl) Summer 2011. 'Making Conversation'.
Photography Self Portrait - Inspired by the Dorothy Bohm Exhibition Summer 2010. For 'Making Conversation'.
Photography Self Portrait - Inspired by the Dorothy Bohm Exhibition Summer 2010. For 'Making Conversation'.
Clay Textured Mask - Inspired by the Ron Mueck Exhibition. 2010. For 'Making Conversation'.
Writing - Inspired by the Goya and Jake and Dinos Chapman exhibition. 2010. For 'Making Conversation'.
Participating in 'Drawn to the Beat' by Naomi Kendrick at Band on the Wall. January 2011.
Shadow Piece for 'Making Conversation'.
 Eyes - Inspired by the Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Exhibition. 2010. For 'Making Conversation'.
Eyes - Inspired by the Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Exhibition. 2010. For 'Making Conversation'.
Question Writing - Inspired by the Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Exhibition. 2010. For 'Making Conversation'.
Red Riding Wolf Performance - Inspired by the Paul Morrison Exhibition. 2009. For 'Making Conversation'.
'Making Conversation' ( Pictured with Charlotte ).
Mugging Performance ( pictured with Charlotte and Joyce ) - Inspired by the Gwon Asang Exhibition, Summer 2008. For 'Making Conversation'.
Mugging Performance - Inspired by the Gwon Asang Exhibition, Summer 2008. For 'Making Conversation'.
Performance to the soundtrack of 'The Last Post' - Naomi Kendrick's M.A by Research Participatory Event. 2008. See video below
Collaborative Sound Piece, with Anne Hornsby and Jane Mckeating - Naomi Kendrick's M.A by Research Participatory Event. 2008. See video below
'Making Conversation' ( pictured with Meg Parnell and Joyce )
Dance Performance with Joyce - Inspired by the Kylie exhibition. Summer 2007. For 'Making Conversation'
Dance Performance with Joyce - Inspired by the Kylie exhibition. Summer 2007. For 'Making Conversation'
Dance Performance with Joyce - Inspired by the Kylie exhibition. Summer 2007. For 'Making Conversation'
Dance Performance with Joyce - Inspired by the Kylie exhibition. Summer 2007. For 'Making Conversation'
'Making Conversation' ( pictured with Meg, Charlotte and Joyce )
Sculpture with text - Inspired by the Alien Nation Exhibition. Spring 2007. For 'Making Conversation'.
Sculpture with text ( pictured with Joyce ) - Inspired by the Alien Nation Exhibition. Spring 2007. For 'Making Conversation'.
Sculpture with text - Inspired by the Alien Nation Exhibition. Spring 2007. For 'Making Conversation'.
'Making Conversation'


A Tribute to Gary – By Danielle Garcia Volunteer Manager at The Imperial War Museum North.

Gary started volunteering at the IWM in 2007 helping visitors to get the most from their visit and was an extremely valued member of the Volunteer team. Although visually impaired Gary was exceptionally independent and had a courageous spirit.

Gary volunteered every Monday and Friday and rarely missed a day. He made many friends along the way. I asked his volunteer friends to write down a few words to describe Gary this is what they said: He was fun loving, free spirit, pleasant, helpful, witty, intelligent, humorous, and enjoyed being part of a team. Gary was a wonderful person who was helpful and always full of joy and kindness, a joker who liked to make people laugh and smile, and I share with my colleague’s great fondness as he will always be part of our gang.

Gary was always the first person to put his name down for social events at the museum he was a social butterfly, he loved meeting the gang he also loved eating the various cakes and biscuits that were on offer!

Gary is pictured here at my maternity leaving do, we had to ask him to smile for the camera before he tucked in! He was always the first to grab a cake or 3 and a brew which of course was black no sugar with a drop of cold water.

We always had a bit of banter about his love of all things sweet. Victoria Howarth always has a giggle about the time when he was sat in the kitchen and said ‘I like these hairy scones’ which were in fact Greek biscuits with shredded nuts of the top. He often helped himself to the biscuits on the table, he’d take a quick sniff and down the hatch it would go.

Gary was a bit of a comedian, he didn’t take things too seriously, he was really good friend with Brian pictured to the left of Gary (wearing the hat) I dread to think of what is making the crowd laugh, it’s obviously very funny!

Brian bought Gary a talking wrist watch from the pound shop. Gary was made up with his gift and wore it every day. Just recently Kate Day sent me a recording of Gary talking about an art piece in the gallery.  Right in the middle of the discussion you can hear the talking clock! That made me laugh, he did this all the time usually in the middle of conversations even presentations and meetings. He's given us many chuckles over the years. 

He was hugely committed to the arts and culture of the city. I often attended volunteer co-ordinators meetings and many people knew Gary. He was very active in providing advice and support for access issues at IWM North, The Manchester Museum, Whitworth Art gallery and The Manchester Art Gallery and probably many more! We were all very proud of Gary and Gary was proud to be involved.

Over the years I gradually found out more and more about Gary and the very busy life he led. I found out he was studying for his degree and writing a dissertation on access to the arts and heritage venues. I saw his confidence grow, he was strong, independent and was always looking for that extra challenge.

General discussions with Gary would often lead to a heated debate, I only had to mention something and he would jump straight on it. Only a few weeks ago we had a discussion on how the name badges have volunteers written on them, Gary didn’t like it. Gary mentioned we should gather a bit of evaluation. He went home and within a day he had compiled a brief and a series of 11 multiple choice questions!

In his email he said: Hi Dan,
You or Helen B we're probably joking when you asked me to write a questionnaire to try and gauge the opinions of visitors, towards whether volunteers and staff should or shouldn't be advertised as separate entities. I'm afraid I was serious and have wrote a small survey for the public to complete.  Please find attached, and I can probably think of more questions.
Please take a look and tell me what you think? Never say never Danielle! If answers are unanimous there's always room for change.

Thank you

 I also asked staff who knew Gary to send me their memories here’s a few: Marie Stafford ran the induction training course for volunteers she said

‘My main memory was when I paired Gary and Brian (Froggett) up at the start of the course and they were like a double act!  I remember setting a task, like a mini project, and they disagreed about how to do nearly every detail.  Each point of justification of why they should do it in a particular way was surrounded by witty comments and banter.  They managed to get everybody else involved.  It felt like we had spent the entire time laughing and drinking tea, yet some of the best work of the course was produced in that session!

Karen Peake (receptionist) said: He never ceased to amaze me with his independence, his ability to recognise people just by the sound of their footsteps and his very dry sense of humour, I’ll miss his “Morning Karen” as I walked through the Museum.

Martin Skelton (interpreter) wrote: For me, Gary was just a really great guy to be around and he enriched all of our lives. He had a wonderful independent spirit in spite of any barriers and just a truly witty sense of humour that I think we shall all miss above all else.

Certainly we all used to talk together over endless brews in the Level 2 kitchen, in the galleries and enjoyed catching up at social events. I think he really enjoyed talking with our visitors and took easily to assisting everybody get the most out of the Museum. He made us feel at ease and assisted the delivery team massively preparing for workshops with Henshaws.

I know he was really proud of the work he was doing at Manchester Art Gallery too. When I saw him for the last time, aside from various chatter about rugby and football, we talked incessantly about the pre-Raphaelite artists. It was great to hear Gary speak so passionately about art and really inspired me to explore paintings such as The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt.

Gary was unique, a really special person. Many of us feel lucky to have known him.
In a recent letter to Gary’s parents Jim Forrester summed up what Gary meant to us all:
‘Gary was a most remarkable man whose courage and determination as a volunteer here was an inspiration to us all: there are many people who would find it daunting just to talk to visitors at all but Gary never let his visual impairment hold him back. I was always pleased to see him at the entrance to the Main Galleries since I knew that visitors would be getting good advice and information.

Over the years he has been with us, Gary has advised us on access issues, making sure we understood the real implications of this. It has been very helpful to have someone like him at our side as we were proposing changes to the building or the route though an exhibition. I can’t speak highly enough of his commitment and I know my colleagues would join me in this. He was well-liked and we will all miss him’

I will miss him dearly.


  1. So sorry to hear about Gary. I am sure he would have been very proud of what you have written about him, Naomi.


  2. Hi Naomi,

    What a lovely tribute for a truly inspirational person.

    Sarah Marsh

  3. Thanks for sharing this wonderful and broad tribute with us, Naomi.

    God bless his soul.

    Daniel Yanez.

  4. Thanks for putting into words and pictures all these wonderful memories and thoughts about Gary. Losing Gary is going to leave a massive gap at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery and in the hearts of everyone who got to know him over the years.

    Gary always had something to say and wasn't afraid of saying what he thought. He'd recently begun to take the lead on delivering workshops as well as taking part in them and shaping the way we got people responding to the collections and exhibitions. We were all looking forward to seeing how Gary would develop as a valued member of the Gallery team and where his career would take him since the recent completion of his degree. My job has just been made a million times harder now he's not going to be around.

    As everyone can see from the pictures and videos, Gary was an inspirational person - he was funny (we always had a good chuckle about ), made really good art and was a thoughtful and caring friend - a very cool person.

    Gary's death has come as a massive shock to everyone. Gary will be greatly missed and our thoughts go out to his family - you should be very proud.
    See you Gary.

  5. Hi Naomi,

    Hope you're ok? Thanks for sharing your post. I didn't get to meet Gary in the gallery but I do remember seeing him coming out of the learning studios and he was always smiling.

    Your blog post is a lovely way of remembering such a creative bright soul.

    Michiko x

  6. Well written for someone who should be well remembered.

    Remember the happy times Sis.


  7. Thank you Kate, beautifully put.

    And thank you Ben, I will.

  8. We all had a good chuckle about stuff - was what I meant to say x

  9. Such tragic news. I only met Gary a few times at the Making Conversation workshop and Naomi's Drawn to the Beat night but it was an inspiration to see the way he creatively approached the tasks. I met Gary when I was struggling with my own work in my last year of university. I believe that Gary’s inspirational attitude towards his thinking and making processes changed the way I approached my own ideas, and overall contributed to the direction in which I took my own work.

    A lovely tribute Naomi. My thoughts are with you and everyone at the Making Conversation workshop.

    Abby Scowcroft

  10. Thanks Abby, it's really great to know Gary had such a profound affect on your work.

  11. I don't know what to say..... partly because I am still in shock and also because Naomi, you've said it all so beautifully already.

    Gary was brilliant to work with. He constantly pushed the boundaries and was so unafraid to respond to whatever exhibition we were learning about. His work was honest, raw and engaging.

    My fondest memories are freezing to death in the cold outside Manchester art gallery with him so he could smoke his menthol cigarettes!

    'Making conversations' won't be the same without him. My thoughts are with you all. xx

  12. Thanks Charlotte, Gary loved working with you and really missed you when you left. So many of the photos of him at work include you, helping him to realise his ideas. You did a lot for him and you should be proud of that.

  13. I'm really pleased you were in a position to share Gary's work Naomi. Like Michiko, I never had the chance to work with gary, but often saw him around the gallery.

    It's such a shame that it's under these circumstances that Gary's work became properly known to me. But nevertheless I'm glad that it has.

  14. Such a lovely tribute Naomi. The photos really capture what fun and creative times you had. x

  15. I was so sorry to hear the news about Gary from Henshaws, and remember him as a vibrant member of the group, always keen to participate and learn. Everyone will miss his inquistive nature, his wit and his enthusiasm. Please pass on my condolences to family and friends.

    jennifer vickers

  16. Gary was a kind warm person who will be missed by all who knew him at the imperial war museum north
    and as a former volunteer a great pleasure to know
    by former volunteer colleague
    Nigel Howell

  17. Thank you Naomi, for putting this amazing collection together of Gary’s creative work over the last few years. When I see it all together I realise how expressive he was in so many ways.
    It has been fantastic to know Gary over the last few years through all his participation at Manchester Art Gallery. These pictures bring back so many memories. I had forgotten how beautiful his dance piece was as part of Naomi's research workshops. Gary and I reminded ourselves and laughed recently about the aborted alien balloon release on the front steps of the gallery and the poems that never quite made it to the skies!
    I loved the way Gary threw himself into anything he encountered at the gallery. He would approach everything with just the right dose of openness, warmth, creativity, humour and cynicism and then would create amazing art works. He was brilliant at pitching into discussions and challenging members of any group he worked with. I remember during the end of the one of the Making Conversation series of workshops he really questioned who could be an artist and what it really means to be an artist. At that point, despite all his creativity, he didn’t think of himself as an artist. I wonder now, if he would, seeing all this work collected in one place...?
    Recently I worked with Gary and other volunteers on the Pre-Raphaelite Experiment and it revealed new skills in Gary. He threw himself into the training, getting to know the group, the art works and pushing himself to do something new – to lead a public discussion session in the gallery. It was with much pride and admiration that I experienced him leading a lively session around the painting ‘Hireling Shepherd’ with a group of visitors who had come that Friday lunchtime. (Afterwards it took ages to convince Gary, the perfectionist, that he had done a great job!)
    He was an inspiring, creative, warm, funny, endearing, challenging and honest man. I still can’t believe I won’t be seeing him again at Manchester Art Gallery.
    Meg Parnell

  18. thank you so much for giving garys family the chance to see and read these blogs, it has meant so much to us to see him in a way we have never seen him before. it makes us so proud to realise he was capable of doing a lot more than most of us, despite his disability he never lost his.... sense of humour thank you so much x x x x

  19. 'Some of the nicest moments spent with Gary on our visits with the group were, going into the gift shops, where he wished to buy presents or birthday cards for his family, and I helped by describing them for him. He was a very thoughtful and independent young man, will be sadly missed by us all.' Pat Griffin (museums group)

  20. it has taken me a few weeks to have a look at this, and i am in totally shocked. this is a Gary I knew nothing about. Whenever we asked him what he was up to he said 'nothing much' if only we knew.
    Thank you for sharing