Interview: Hollis Brown Thornton

Die Arbeiten von Hollis Brown Thornton bewegen sich im weiträumigen Feld zwischen Malerei, Fotomanipulation und Illustration und fangen oftmals dort an, zu funktionieren, wo die Kunst anderer meist aufhört: im Whitespace, dem bewussten Weglassen oder Entfernen sichtbarer Elemente.

In diesem ausführlichen Interview erzählt er einiges über seine Techniken, Einflüsse und die philosophischen Hintergründe seiner Arbeit.

The Past

All through growing up, art was an interest, though as a hobby rather than any consideration as a potential career.

hbt00-01Diskursdisko: Hi Hollis. To start things off, what’s your background? When did you start doing artwork?

Hollis Brown Thornton: All through growing up, it was an interest, though as a hobby rather than any consideration as a potential career. The work was all drawing, mostly as-accurate-as-possible reproductions of photographs (usually people from pop culture), no painting. In middle school (11-13 years old) and high school (14-17 years old) I won some school art awards, but at the same time was denied certain other awards, like acceptance to South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities (a public high school for emerging artists).

So I eventually went to college studying business to work for my family. And that eventually eroded due to poor grades and a general lack of interest, so largely on instinct, I changed to studying art. And from that time, at the beginning of 1997, and following my 1999 college graduation, the work has been my main focus.


The Art

The lines radiating from the figures is like being able to see thoughts in a cartoon.

hbt00-004Diskursdisko: How do you mainly produce your art? Do you have a system or method that you adhere to?

Hollis Brown Thornton: The most obvious method I use is the pigment transfer process. It is a way of taking photocopies (though it can also be done with drawing/painting/other pigments) and transferring the pigment to another surface that takes acrylic paint. There is a step-by-step here.
When I do any type of representational painting or drawing, I use either a light box or opaque projector. The drips in my paintings are a combination of brush painting and spray bottle.  I often use rubber gloves and finger paint to get very smooth transitions in the paintings. I use a lot of masking tape and cut shapes out with an x-acto knife, paint, and then peel the tape off. To get the surface smooth on my paintings, I use dry wall sanding blocks (sometimes called sanding sponges).

Diskursdisko: What inspires you?

Hollis Brown Thornton: Watching the Bruce Springsteen making of documentary for Born to Run. Episodes of Arrested Development. Peter Doig & Matthew Barney & Basquiat & especially Cy Twombly. Bees. Being outside or at the lake. Listening to audiobooks on galaxies and philosophy and science and the art of war. And listening to Crystal Castles and Justice and Boards of Canada and Wavves and R.E.M. and Burial and Robyn and M83.

Diskursdisko: Much of your recent artwork is based around negative space on manipulated photos – how did you develop this style?

hbt08-p096Hollis Brown Thornton: That developed over a 1 1/2 year period. I had nonrepresentational graphite and marker drawings/doodles I was scanning and trying to combine on the computer, with the intent of emphasizing fragmentation and flux. But they didn’t have a context or any subjective meaning, so I began combining these computer manipulated images of the drawings with photographs, mostly landscape. And gradually, those landscapes changed to the family photographs, largely to serve as the protagonists for the overall theme of the work (which was dealing with creation mythologies). First there was the idea of taking away the stability of the photograph (the frozen moment of time) by superimposing the drawings….. then it merged into an active combination of the drawings and the photographs by directly erasing elements of the photos and drawing with simple Photoshop tools (like the square pencil or eraser or magic wand).

I erase the faces largely to obscure identities, to make the figures more universal (man/woman, child/adult) while keeping other period elements (clothing, decor, automobiles). The ideas eventually resolved with these incomplete figures, where something is obviously missing, and the lines coming out of them representing the uncertainties and ideas and potential they have, as well as the origins for the creation mythologies which were conceptual foundations of the work. The lines radiating from the figures is like being able to see thoughts in a cartoon.


Diskursdisko: You’ve done a series of VHS video tapes portrayed on shelves – where did the idea for this come from?

Hollis Brown Thornton: Growing up, we had an HUGE cabinet of movies dad taped off TV.  In the 1980s, this really was a sacred cabinet for kids. My friends would come over and go berserk finding movies to watch. Then, about 2 years ago, dad came out to the warehouse (where my studio is) and was about to throw out the hundreds and hundreds of VHS. It was just a shock to see these things that were so important at one time being worth nothing now, just taking up space. So there is that idea of modernity/progress/consumerism, and how technology is so quickly outdated. And how it can be difficult to let go of the past. So they are monuments to the VHS era.  And the contents of the tapes is usually very funny. The passing technologies also relate to the ideas of the creation mythology, where past myths or belief systems are replaced by new ones.

hbt09-07Diskursdisko: Looking at your archive of work, I see a strong progression in style from the earlier works, which are more abstract, to more recent collages and still lives. Do you feel this is a natural progression, or have you made conscious choices in determining the direction of your art?

Hollis Brown Thornton: Early, I really didn’t have specific ideas of what I wanted to paint. General themes, but nothing specific.  Really more influenced by other artists. So, on the level of being new and young to making art, abstraction was an obvious direction. Plus, most of my early favorites were abstract expressionists or related to that genre (Rothko, Klein, Twombly, Johns). On a conscious level, I was intent on understanding how to control the paint.

From an early stage, I wanted the surface of the paintings to be smooth and visibly eroded, so there were vague ideas about the content of the paintings dealing with time/age/erosion. Later, I became focused creation mythology and the psychology of creation, so  abstraction was pursued at that time with the ideas of something being in the state of formation and potential as a theme.

And really from that time period, around 2003 until present, to the best of my knowledge I’ve been making conscious decisions on what I use in the paintings. Sometimes the development seems very natural and sometimes it seems completely chaotic.


The Web

Myspace went through a golden age and then rapidly declined for me. Flickr is very important to see the effect of recent work. And Tumblr is a great way to follow other people with similar artistic interests…

Diskursdisko: You’ve obviously got the website at , any other presences on the web you’d like to publicize? social networking?

Hollis Brown Thornton: Flickr: Recent work and photos.  I’ll often update flickr before the website. Tumblr: An image blog, mostly of other work I like. And Facebook.

Diskursdisko: As you use the internet to showcase your art, are there any other websites you feel have influenced you, opened your mind or shown you new ways of creating art?

hbt09-03Hollis Brown Thornton: Myspace was very helpful for a while. That was my first encounter with networking on the computer. Myspace went through a golden age and then rapidly declined for me.  I eventually deleted that account (though I wish I hadn’t) out of not using the service for some time. It was an important connection to a lot of other like minded people. Flickr is very important to see the effect of recent work. For instance, the VHS pieces are very popular (relatively speaking) and I really would have had no idea otherwise.  And then there are things I do that I believe will knock people’s socks off and there will barely be any reaction! And Tumblr is a great way to follow other people with similar artistic interests, where I almost daily find a new discovery.

Diskursdisko: Of all the work you’ve created, or at least the ones showcased on your website, can you name a couple that you have a special love for or connection to?

hbt01-005Hollis Brown Thornton: My Work Archive for 2000. Really all the 10x10s from this period were their own piece, each a brand new idea rather than a planned series.  All of these are favorites, almost like Radiohead’s Bends album, diverse and distinct, still very young, but not painfully young.

This group of 3 paintings is really the only autobiographical or personal work I’ve ever done.  They’re generally about being girl crazy and heartbroken. But they didn’t turn out sappy. And they were the beginning of my mountain paintings, which focus on the harshness of the landscape (making the mountain contours like sharks teeth).

This is one that almost everyone likes.

These were the first two successful photo manipulations. I was working on them at the same time, so I can’t remember which one was the official first. But they were the personal breakthrough pieces of that time.

This was one of the first marker drawings of the photo manipulations. The markers add a warmth and ‘groups of kids in a room drawing with magic markers’ feeling to the photo manipulations which I think is important.  Another personal breakthrough, adding warmth/playfulness to the photo manipulations, which can seem a bit cold directly off the computer.

Life in the 2000s. I’m happy with the directness and isolation of the room pieces.


The Future

My very large paintings, they need to be much more chaotic and overwhelming and I really have no idea where they are going from here.

Diskursdisko: Do you have any specific plans for the future direction of your artwork?

Hollis Brown Thornton: For the photo manipulations, I’ll continue creating them on the computer and redrawing with markers. I see no drastic changes there. I am in the process of painting these photo manipulations on a larger scale. The room pieces with the tile/grid floors, they need to become more developed, with less of a clean break between the floor and the wall, so they’ll be furnished before too long. And I’ll likely add the VHS tape shelves to the rooms. My very large paintings, they need to be much more chaotic and overwhelming and I really have no idea where they are going from here.

Diskursdisko: Hollis, many thanks for the interview – is there anything you’d like to add?

Hollis Brown Thornton: No, nothing at all. Very good questions! Thank you!!

Vincent Wilkie hat diesen tollen Beitrag verfasst. In seiner Freizeit ist er Musiker, Webdesigner und DJ.

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