Hollis Brown Thornton describes his fascination with dated technology and memory from his upcoming solo show at Linda Warren Projects in Chicago, on view April 12- May 31.
Installation Magazine: How did you become an artist?
Hollis Brown Thornton: It began as a childhood hobby. In high school, I had a great teacher who encouraged me. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but I never considered art a possible career. In the fall of 1997, I found myself three years into a business degree (my family owns an insurance agency), and I realized I had to change course. From that moment on, I was a career artist.
Your work is filled with references to artifacts of popular culture (VHS, Atari) that are coveted for their obsolescence, yet are humble reminders that technology has advanced rapidly in a relatively short period of time. Each generation relates to a particular format of technology, so do these objects reflect your childhood? Do they conjure particular emotion, perhaps feelings of nostalgia?
My dad was going to throw out all of our old VHS tapes around 2006. We had a huge collection of movies, mostly taped off TV. It blew my mind– how could he just get rid of them? That’s where my association with outdated media started. Whenever I use something from the past, either the pop culture images or family photos, I try to somehow change the image, and obscure certain elements. It is in this way that memory breaks down, simplifies, makes everything vague. At the same time, the pixels represent change in technology’s format, from physical to digital media.
I like acrylic paint because of its inherent qualities: it dries fast, remains flexible, and cleaning up is easy. Painting by nature is also very easy to display. No need for framing. And the painting itself is fairly durable. Acrylic paint simply makes sense in a lot of real-world scenarios. As for the act of painting itself, scrubbing the surface of the painting, creating this worn down, weathered appearance was probably my first painting obsession. I spent my first three or four years of painting working toward a surface I was happy with. The tactile quality of the painting’s surface has always been important to me, like sculpture in relief. The past few years I’ve been taking images and breaking them down to pixels on the computer. I can then reproduce this in any media. The pixels provide the hard edge between colors that allows for much more abrasion and surface development.
What material best expresses your point of view as an artist?
Definitely paint. I think more people like my marker drawings because they have that nostalgic touch, but I feel that the surface texture of the paint better communicates my intention.
Which artists have had the greatest influence on your practice?
Cy Twombly is by far my favorite, but I cannot paint like him. I’d have to say in the past three years Takashi Murakami has been my biggest influence, although it may be unfair considering he has many more hands than I do. I love the repetition in his work as well as the layering and sanding that goes into the images. Roberto Calbucci, Brian Alfred, and Kevin Zucker are three artists my age that I follow quite closely.
Let’s discuss the work you are including in your upcoming exhibition at Linda Warren Projects. What mediums are included? What was the process of preparing for the exhibition? Were you inspired by a particular theme?
The show will be comprised of my outdated media marker drawings and acrylic pixel paintings, using the general themes of memory and mortality that I’ve been pondering over the past several years. Solo shows are a great time to finish things that have been in developmental stages. That deadline makes you commit.
All images © of the artist