I came across this moleskine sketch on tumblr recently, created and shared by Hollis Brown Thornton. Playful and colorful with a touch of kitsch, this “Jaws” nod brought an instant smile to my face. The drawing offers a glimpse into the quirky-cool world of Hollis’s work, an endless stream of imaginative and inspired pieces with a welcome retro vibe.
As I dug deeper through his portfolio site, I discovered that I actually own a Thornton original.. snagged off of the beloved 20×200 last year! His poignant ode to a long lost medium, VHS, currently hangs on my wall just below a vintage print of strawberry ice cream sundaes. True story.
I reached out to Hollis and can attest that he is an extremely cool dude. Hailing from Aiken, South Carolina, Thornton received his BFA from the University of South Carolina in 1999. Following his graduation, Thornton worked for various galleries including Russell Bowman Art Advisory and Mongerson Galleries in Chicago, IL. Since 2005, Thornton has been focusing mostly on his own work in a warehouse studio back in his hometown.
An excerpt from his site tells more about his inspiration.. “Dealing with themes of memory and perception, Thornton uses modern cultural artifacts ranging from family photos to pop culture imagery in order to illustrate the modern relevance of these things from the past. In the acrylic paintings, pigment transfers and marker drawings, the use of erase face, limbo lines, outdated media and wallpaper patterns all play key roles in uniting the fleeting present to a lingering past.”
Hollis was kind enough to take some time to chat more about his work and life:
Anjelica: Tell us about the three biggest influences in your work to date.
Hollis: I’d have to say over the past 5 or so years it has been CyTwombly, Peter Doig, and Matthew Barney. Twombly’s work has an immediate emotional connection for me, a sense of vitality and energy that I don’t get from any other visual art. Peter Doig’s paintings are representational with a strange dreamlike twist. He was the artist that made me decide I could possibly do a decent representational painting one day. And finally Barney, I’m more attracted to his conceptual foundation and his ability to articulate what he is doing. The work itself can be a bit much, but the underlying ideas are fascinating.
On a more personal level, the work of these three young artists has been very influential:
Roberto Calbucci: http://robertocalbucci.tumblr.com/
Clare Grill: http://www.claregrill.com/
A: Is there a hidden meaning behind the common theme of erased faces and people in your work?
H: The erased faces usually have some form of lines coming out as well. These “limbo lines” as I’ve come to call them connect with other people and objects in the environment, representing our dependence on and desire to understand things happening around us. They are our thoughts, questions, and ideas that lead to understanding we develop, either with variations of myths/religion or through science and objectivity. The protagonists identities are hidden, representing anyone. They represent the incomplete nature of memories as well as the fragmented nature of the people and environments in the photos, that inherent motivation to understand their surroundings. The erasure hides individual identities and, most importantly, represent inevitable change and the fact that these individuals, in that specific form, no longer exist, either older or completely gone.
A: How did you develop your pigment transfer technique for creating these mixed media pieces?
Around 10 years ago an artist in a neighboring studio was transferring black and white photocopies into gesso. She gave me the basics of the process and it developed from there. Outside of that, a lot of trial and error. Getting familiar with the variables of the process.
A color photo copy of the photo being transferred and a sheet of 80lb paper are prepped and adhered to one another with acrylic medium. Hollis uses a squeegee to remove air bubbles before hanging the piece to dry.
After the image has dried for 24 hours, Hollis soaks the paper by spraying with a water bottle. A wet brush with hard bristles is used to remove chunks of the lightweight copy paper, leaving the printed image behind.
A cotton t-shirt is used to more delicately remove remaining bits of paper from the transferred print. The original image, now slightly worn and faded, is ready on its new medium for the introduction of ink and more.
[check out Hollis's super detailed overview of his pigment transfer process, and try it out on your own!]
A: What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?
H: Continuing with art, especially in my early years. It is somewhat easier now that I’m older and have an identity as an artist and a variety of techniques I’ve developed. When you are just starting out, for myself at least, it felt like years of limbo.
A: If you could travel to any place at any time in the past or present, where would you go?
H: I really have no answer for this one….. I’ve never had the desire to travel. I don’t know why.
A: What’s your most recent muse, and how do you think this will impact your art moving forward?
H: Definitely my girlfriend, who also helps a lot in the studio. It is great to always have someone else for objectivity as well as accountability.
A: Anything you’re excited about in the coming year?
H: I’m still not content with my paintings. My pigment transfers and marker drawings are just where I want them, but the painting not so much. If I can figure those out this year, I’d be very happy.
A: Share an inspiring quote, or something else that you find yourself thinking of often.
H: Boy scouts “Be prepared.” That has always been my favorite quote.