Thornton Willis’s Aversion to Perfection

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It’s no surprise to know that Thornton Willis, the son of an evangelical minister, born in Pensacola, Florida in 1936, has never done a research show in New York. He was an almost unrelated artist who lived in downtown New York in the late 1960s and late 70s and worked to create a place for painting after abstract expressionism, minimalism, pop art, and the “death of painting.” Belongs to the group of. When the world of art was dominated by conceptual art and anti-optical. Except for the spectacular traveling exhibition High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975 Curated by Katy Siegel in 2006, incorporating the views of David Reed, the experimental abstractions of the last decade have been largely overlooked.And even that show didn’t deal with the breadth of what was happening in abstraction during that period, like Thornton Willis. Slat Paintings are not included.

21 abstract paintings Thornton Willis: Painting Survey, 1960: Works from 1967 to 2017Within the realm of geometric abstraction, in the Uptown of David Richard Gallery and the new Chelsea location (Uptown: April 4th to May 13th, Chelsea: March 30th to May 13th, 2022). Communicate a restless artist who has never developed a signature format that is working. Rather, he found an open and improvised way to his work and fostered a flexible process of culminating in paintings, including records of their creations. Instead of trying to achieve a cool, flat, detached look that was valued in the art world as a necessary response to the disturbed surface of Abstract Expressionism, Willis wanted to make everything open. Both brushstrokes and evidence of early paint layers are often found in his paintings.

Thornton Willis, “Hot Shot” (1983), Acrylic on Canvas, 108×120 inches

In 1967, when minimalism, pop art and stain painting were all the rage, Willis said: Slat. In an interview with the painter Julie Caravenic published in a magazine, Geoform (September 2013) Willis, who had just moved to a loft on Spring Street in SoHo, discussed the sources of these paintings.

The front of most buildings was made of cast iron and the sides were made of old and irregular handmade bricks. There was a vacant lot between the buildings, and graffiti artists were invited to the walls. Looking at these old brick walls, I felt that I could see evidence of the history of the building. Wandering through this abandoned neighborhood at night was like entering a cave and reading its history on the wall. I was looking for something to move me, and these rough old walls definitely influenced me.

Willis Slat Paint the unstretched canvas using a floor painting, a roller with a long handle, and work from wet to wet. He used the vantage point provided by the ladder to check the overall composition. Each painting was completed in one session lasting 10 to 14 hours. In their layering and rawness Slat Painting rejects the general abstraction mode. In this regard, Willis belongs to a generation of painters who rejected the status quo of the art world, such as Jack Whitten, Mary Heilmann, Thomas Nozkowski, Gary Stephan, and Harriet Korman.

Thornton Willis, “Brooklyn Bridge” (1993), acrylic on canvas, 96×84 inches

On different days, spending time painting in the two exhibitions, I was impressed that Willis continued to reconstruct his interest in structure and gestures into different series, turning the palette into an unpredictable combination. For the past 60 years, he has used stripes (or bands) either at right angles or diagonals, devoting himself to keeping the painting open so that the hints of previous colors are peers, three-dimensional geometry. Finished adopting geometric shapes (triangles and irregular rectangles).

The use of Willis’ opacity and transparency, the combination of structure and gestures, the superposition of paints in composition, and the refusal to seal the surface of the paint in a single unified paint skin, he It is a feature of the work of. .. These qualities connect him to both abstract expressionist gestures and geometric branches represented by Franz Kline and Barnett Newman.

In the early 1980s, during the heyday of neo-expressionism and the rise of sculpture, Willis did not try to adjust his work, as evidenced by one of him. Thick sliced ​​potatoes Works, blatantly frontal “Full House” (1981), or two zigzag, “Brown Zinger” and “Hot Shot” (both 1983). The bold structurally shaped frontal abstraction remains true to the roots of Abstract Expressionism, without feeling nostalgic for the thick and wet brushstrokes. The paints are placed in an easy way to convey a loose search.

Thornton Willis, “Right Intentions” (2017), acrylic on canvas, 20×16 inches

Red lines can be seen on both the left and right edges of the “Full House”, in contrast to the yellow ground, with hints of previous colors extending beyond the edges of the blue wedges that make up much of the ground painting in this figure. What is clear is that Willis loves the physical act of paint, but he does not worship it.

In the “hot shot,” Willis began applying red and yellow to the silver-gray zigzags that crossed the red ground, but then stopped, leaving diluted stripes and smears. The two zigzag vertical bands that surround the diagonal are gray and unmarked except for a few drops of red. I felt the painting was completed and unfinished at the same time.

This ambiguity becomes more apparent in the two series triangle When Prismatics, From the 1990s. In these series, triangles of various sizes divide the rectangular screen of the painting.While triangle The painting consists of one layer Prismatics, The second group of triangles overlaps the first group. These consist of a solid plane and linear contours that do not completely cover the previous layer. The two sets of divided planes paradoxically establish a space that looks perfectly flat. This tension is peculiar to the “Brooklyn Bridge” (1993), but in principle, Willis’ paintings are animated by the stress between the person and the ground, the surface and the depth, the perfection and the imperfections. ..

Thornton Willis, “Black Bear” (1998), Acrylic on Canvas, 114×108 inches

In “Black Bear” (1998), Willis uses black, red, green and yellow. These colors share something with the Tricolor flag (red, black, green) created by Marcus Garvey and members of the Universal Black Improvement Association. Flag of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Yellow and white are also included. (In 1966, Willis, a student at the University of Alabama, participated in the civil rights movement and participated in a march from Selma to Montgomery led by Martin Luther King Jr.) The painting contains pencil lines. (Some intersect) out), raw canvas, and drips. Willis seems to have thought about modifying the painting, but he changed his mind and left it alone.

Its openness suggests that he does not believe that the painting needs to achieve visual perfection. Rather, painting is a process that does not look for closure. Considering Willis’s work through the lenses of philosophy, aesthetics, metaphysics, and social change, it is clear that he pursued a very different course from his contemporaries. Still, as many critics and art historians claim, I am a typical New York abstract painter and part of a continuous lineage that began in the 1930s and did not end in the 1960s. think. The vibrant variety of New York’s abstract paintings is rarely celebrated by the city’s institutions, as it is easy to pick out a few stars.

Thornton Willis, “Untitled Slat” (1967), Acrylic on Canvas, 77×59 inches

Thornton Willis: Painting Survey, 1960: 1967-2017 It was held until May 13th at David Richard Gallery (508 West 26th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan; and 211 East 121st Street, Harlem, Manhattan). The exhibition was hosted by the gallery.

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