When asked what art means to you, there are countless available responses one could give; deep, monumental responses, but when presented the question, all Hollis Brown Thornton had to say was, “It makes me happy.” What more of a response could one ask for? Simple, straightforward, and heartfelt; no added fluff, just an honest interpretation. Thornton continued his answer by saying, “It is the perfect balance of challenge and reward.” But when it comes to actually producing the art, the answer is not so clear. “It is a spectrum of emotions,” Thornton said, “Frustration. Stress. Occasional success. But I think no matter how good or bad the work is going, I always feel productive. Even in failure there are many things to learn. So I’d say productive is the main feeling, which is a very good feeling.” If that is the case, Thornton must lead a life of productive happiness; “There really isn’t much to me outside of art. Pretty much every aspect of my life is wrapped up in it,” said the Aiken, SC based artist.
Thornton, who received his BFA from the University of South Carolina in 1999, has had an infatuation with art since childhood. “I more or less had the identity as the art kid. Not really the eccentric art guy, but someone who could draw a cool picture.” He began in middle school with comic book drawings. “I suppose what took me beyond normal childhood curiosity was my obsession with each piece. I’d typically spend 20-30 hours on a single drawing. There was something about that process, which I suppose is largely the challenge of getting an image as close to another image as possible, that got me into the very basic level of attempting to be technically capable with the medium,” said Thornton. His technical capability turned from comic drawings, to precise representational graphite drawings of figures from pop culture in high school, especially that of R.E.M’s Michael Stipe who he regarded as his teenage idol.
“What got me producing art on an ‘adult’ level was college. Philip Mullen taught an intro painting class. I really didn’t have much experience with painting growing up and this was a typical lower to intermediate level class. The first project I turned in, I received either a C or C+. It was hard because not only was this the first C I’d ever gotten on an art project, but I really thought it was a decent painting. In retrospect it was not, but that propelled my determination to figure out painting. And it became almost obsessive over the semester,” Thornton admitted. After graduating from USC, Thornton worked as Gallery Director for Mongerson Galleries and then as Instillation Assistant at Russell Bowman Art Advisory.
Since graduation, Thornton has developed his techniques and work variety. “The work changes for a number of reasons, either by technical or conceptual influences. My work has changed a lot over the past 10 years since I’ve been out of school,” said Thornton, mostly attributing the change to the capability of making his own decisions with his work.
Over the past 4 years, Thornton’s range and use of mediums has expanded by the regular use of acrylic paint, pigment transfers, permanent markers, and Photoshop. His approach to his work almost always begins in Photoshop and continues with a pigment transfer which helps to directly produce a physical version of the computer work. Thornton then uses the markers to convert the original image and loosen it up which prepares the image for the final version as a painting. “That idea of tradition [painting] as well as trying to do something with standard equipment, that is different than anything else I’ve seen, that is a main motivator or inspiration,” Thornton responded. A longer explanation of the process can be found on Thornton’s website.
From his process comes his inspiration. “There are both limitations and potentials in the work; I’ll see something I want to improve on. Then inspiration comes from discontentment” said Thornton. The process of learning what he can and cannot accomplish with certain mediums and within his own artistic capabilities present a form of modification and evolution.
If you really want a feel for how the work progresses, check out Thornton’s favorite piece, “Unexplained Mysteries of the Universe,” which has three variations. “This piece, it just has everything I’ve worked for over the years. The erasure works perfectly, the merging of that old photograph with the digital world and the eventual complete transformation to the pixel image. The erased photos are something I developed over a 2 year period. They truly feel like my own work,” said Thornton proudly.
Not only can you see Thornton’s work on his website at hollisbrownthornton.com, but the artist has work all over the world. Currently, Thornton is showing at if ART Gallery in Columbia, SC, Linda Warren Gallery in Chicago, and Aisho Miura Arts in Tokyo. All of his work is available and might just bring a little extra happiness to its new owner.