Thornton Willis

Thornton Willis, “Downtown”, 61” x 52”, oil on canvas, 2012


Although I want the space in my painting to have a degree of ambiguity, and I want to energize and activate the surface, what I am ultimately after in the resolution is a flat two-dimensional statement that maintains the integrity of the picture plane, which is actually a flat surface. The painter and great teacher Hans Hoffman referred to what I am describing as “Push-Pull.” I try to activate the surface with colored intervals that push and pull on each other without any one element coming forward or falling back. What I am after is a dynamic spatial relationship between figure and ground, or sometimes to charge the picture plane with impacted energy so as to make it an undeniable, absolutely compelling image. That is, I believe, the best I can put into words what I am trying to accomplish in my painting. Often it occurs to me that in my whole career I have been making one single painting in an attempt to find that one painting statement that is absolutely in tune with all that is. For me, painting is mystical, even magical. At times it is a spiritual quest, a search for a means to make us whole, a reach for the stars.

Thornton Willis

The painter Thornton Willis has an extensive artistic career spanning over half a century. Rooted in the precepts of Abstract Expressionism, Thornton has expanded the vocabulary of abstract painting through exploration of a painterly geometry that remains firmly within the space of the picture plane. His intuited and saturated palette intensifies the visuality of these paintings, while reinforcing their dynamic presence. Willis’s paintings are in numerous public collections including the: Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum, MOMA, Philips Collection, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, High Museum, Rose Art Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Portland Art Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art, Carnegie Melon Museum, Denver Art Museum and other museums, private and public collections. Thornton Willis has been recognized with the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Fellowship, Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Pollock- Krasner Fellowship.

Thornton Willis is represented by the Elizabeth Harris Gallery in New York and has exhibited with Gagosian Gallery, Andre Emmerich Gallery, the Paley and Lowe Gallery and numerous other significant galleries here and abroad. A more extensive description of his contributions to the development of Abstraction can be viewed on Wikipedia, the artist’s web site, or through contacting Miles Manning, Director of the Elizabeth Harris Gallery.