The Red Crayola with Art & Language

active since 1973


The band The Red Crayola (subsequently known as Red Krayola, and now The Red Krayola) was founded in Houston, Texas, in 1966 by art students Mayo Thompson (born 1944 in Houston, Texas), Frederick Barthelme, and Steve Cunningham. With their first LP The Parable of Arable Land (1967) they created a milestone of psychedelic rock, although it failed to achieve significant commercial success. After poor sales for their second record too, the group split up in 1968.

Mayo Thompson subsequently headed to New York, where one of his jobs was as Robert Rauschenberg’s studio assistant. In 1973, he encountered the artist group Art & Language and became a member of their New York branch. After moving to London, Thompson reactivated The Red Krayola and began to release records again, in some cases in conjunction with Art & Language. In the early 1980s, he joined the post-punk band Pere Ubu and was also active as a producer on many projects. During the 1980s, Thompson moved to Germany (where he played with Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius and later with Albert Oehlen, Werner Büttner, and Rüdiger Carl) before returning to the USA in the 1990s and taking up a professorship at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. His cooperation with Art & Language continued from 2007 with further record releases.

The artists’ group Art & Language was founded in Coventry in 1968 by Terry Atkinson (born 1939 in Thurnscoe, UK) and Michael Baldwin (born 1945 in Chipping Norton, UK) and has since existed in varying configurations (including with participation from David Bainbridge, Ian Burn, Sarah Charlesworth, Michael Corris, Roger Cutforth, Charles Harrison, Preston Heller, Graham Howard, Harold Hurrell, Joseph Kossuth, Andrew Menard, Philip Pilkington, Mel Ramsden, David Rushton, and Terry Smith).

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

In its predominantly linguistic-analytical works, Art & Language aims to develop a fundamental critique of the bourgeois art world based on material objects. Along with a series of conceptual installation-based works, the collective increasingly also sought to implement this criticism in the form of images. In 1969, it founded the journal Art-Language, and in 1975/76 three issues of the magazine The Fox, published by the group’s US subsidiary, came out.



Michael Baldwin from the conceptual art group Art & Language and the American musician Mayo Thompson, an experienced connoisseur of various rock idioms, first met in London in 1973. The meeting resulted in a—rather audacious—scheme to present political pamphlets and theoretical texts on rock music.

After several years of work, this gave rise to the LP Corrected Slogans, which they released themselves in 1976 under the group name »Music-Language.« Part of the LP was recorded in the USA, where an offshoot of Art & Language was active around the artists Joseph Kosuth (born 1945) and Mel Ramsden (born 1944 in Great Britain; emigrated to the USA). Song titles like »The Mistakes of Trotsky ... Thesmophoriazusae,« »Don’t Talk to Sociologists ...,« and »Penny Capitalists« epitomized the political-theoretical thrust of the project, which largely drew on unconventional folk song sketches.

In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

The Red Krayola with Art & Language

Nine Gross and Conspicuous Errors, 1976, with Kathryn Bigelow (voc.), Ian Burn (voc.), Jesse Chamberlain (perc.), Christine Kozlov (voc.), Nigel Lendon (voc.), Mel Ramsden (voc.), Paula Ramsden (voc.), Terry Smith (voc.), Mayo Thompson (guit., keyboard, accordion), 24:00 min.

Film: Art & Language, Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London

Shot in New York while recording the LP Corrected Slogans, the video was originally intended for didactic purposes, such as teaching art students. In keeping with its title, it deliberately had poor production values, as reflected in the image and sound quality, which is significantly below par by today’s standards. Cast in a self-critical or self-ironic vein, the video addressed incompetence with regard to political issues, as revealed by the group’s numerous self-analyses. As the title suggests, the intention was to reproduce this in a seemingly flawed manner. The nine pieces in the video feature instrumentation by Thompson (guitar, keyboards, accordion) and Jesse Chamberlain (drums). Most of the texts were written especially for it by Mel Ramsden. The lyrics, which have a strong theoretical component and are sometimes difficult to sing, are performed by various constellations of Art & Language members, including Ramsden herself, artists Ian Burn and Nigel Lendon, art historian Terry Smith, artists Christine Kozlov and Paula Ramsden, and Kathryn Bigelow, who later became a filmmaker.

The individual performances often begin with the announcement »It is a G and CE« (»It is a gross and conspicuous error«), followed by laconically distanced or affirmatively euphoric recitations, with performers sight-reading the score.


Accompanied by Thompson’s minimal elegiac accordion, a trio of women, consisting of Bigelow, Kozlov, and Paula Ramsden, intones at one point: »It is a gross and conspicuous error (›a G and CE‹) to regard language as a classless means of communication—language belongs to the managers.« This is followed by a credo of humankind’s reification, which was prevalent at the time: »Our individual particularity gets transfixed into a reified mind or self.« At the end, all three join in unison for the following pronouncement: »Non-sensuous interpretation insidiously transforms us all into tourists … contemplators of a world not of our own making.« We are all just spectators, tourists in a world that we did not create ourselves. Later in the video, Ian Burn recites the same text once again with a completely different timbre and visual tenor (looking, as he does so, like a copy of the lead character in Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver).

The 1976 collaboration between Art & Language and The Red Crayola is also recorded in another film document—the almost ten-minute final section of Serbian director Zoran Popović’s film Struggle in New York. At that time, the conceptual art group’s US faction had split irrevocably, having failed to patch up tensions between its more social and more artistic strands. Before the remaining members of the group moved to England, they gave one final performance in November 1976, which Popović recorded in his film; alluding to Monty Python, it was entitled »And Now for Something Completely Different.«

The cooperation between Art & Language and The Red Crayola would develop fresh impetus in England, continuing—albeit with interruptions—to this day.

Author: Christian Höller



Christian Höller