The first time I was exposed to the minutely-detailed and unconventionally psychedelic paintings of Philadelphia-based artist Shawn Thornton, I thought I was looking at paintings of vibrantly colorful circuit boards. It’s an easy misconception to make, I suspect. Thornton’s canvases are dense with the intersecting lines of diagram-like designs and irregular grids, which often contain images of birds, animals, people, or even the artist himself. While he’s shown extensively at the Fleisher/Ollman Gallery and Stephen Romano Gallery here in NYC — and Thornton’s work was also featured in an episode of HBO’s High Maintenance (which, as an aside, is a fantastically entertaining show) — but his unique artworks have a chance to gain greater exposure in the solo exhibit, Pareidolia, which includes works produced in a variety of media between 1995 and 2017, up now at Cue Art Foundation.
Since I have previously seen and written about an exhibit by artist Tahiti Pehrson which was also called Pareidolia, I know that the exhibit’s title refers to a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern where none actually exists. This is a very appropriate title for Thornton’s body of work, and especially this expanded collection, which showcases not only paintings but also includes found-object sculptures and video installations.
There are two large assemblage sculptures in Pareidolia which remind me very much of the work of artist Matthew Dutton, whose art is always so enigmatic and captivating; like something you’d see in a fever dream. I love that Thornton can transform a combination of vintage toys, furniture and ordinary household items, like a carousel clothespin hanger, into a fantasy device that appears to have some kind of practical function or purpose.
This altar-like tableau, starring a whimsical plastic Elephant and Giraffe stuffed with tiny lights, also features antlers, tree branches, bells, padlocks, vinyl LP discs, and tiny living plants.
Many of the paintings, such as this one, feature self-portraits of Thornton hidden in the midst of other images. It turns out that Thornton’s own experiences with Pareidolia, which is evident in his hallucinatory artworks, was triggered by an undiagnosed brain tumor in his pineal gland, which he lived with for over a decade.
The above collection of small-scale paintings directly reference the artist’s experience with surgery to remove the tumor.
It is not a coincidence that these paintings resemble maps of Thornton’s psyche.
Paintings like these can take Thornton over a year to complete, and there are no accidental brush strokes.
Thornton worked on the above canvas from 2010 to 2103.
Take a look at the detail from just a couple of square inches of this painting! Unbelievable!
Come and discover the world of Shawn Thornton now at Cue Art Foundation before the show closes!
Shaun Thornton’s Pareidolia will be on Exhibit Through May 24th, 2017 at Cue Art Foundation, Located at 137 West 25th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) in NYC.