It’s Day 181 and it’s another hot summer day! About to head out to eat lunch with a friend and then get back to business. As I write this, I’m still working on my painting…hope it turns out okay. Join me in honoring Thornton Willis today.
Thornton Willis (born May 25, 1936 in Pensacola, Florida) is an American abstract painter. He has contributed to the New York School of painting since the late 1960s. Viewed as a member of the Third Generation of American Abstract Expressionists, his work is associated with Abstract Expressionism, Lyrical Abstraction, Process Art, Postminimalism, Bio-morphic Cubism (a term he coined) and Color Field painting.
Thornton Willis’s father, Willard Willis, was an evangelical preacher in the Church of Christ. Willis
spent formative years in Montgomery Alabama, returning to graduate from Tate High School in Pensacola, Florida. After three years in the United States Marine Corps, Thornton Willis studied, under the G.I. Bill, at Auburn University for one year transferring to the University of Southern Mississippi where he graduated with a B.A. in 1962.
In the summer of 1964, he enrolled at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, for graduate studies and received a teaching assistantship, and his M.A. in 1966. While at the University of Alabama he was befriended by the American football quarterbackJoe Namath, met visiting artist Theodoros Stamos, and primarily studied painting with Melville Price, a painter who had shown in New York City with Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning and had been a member of The Club at the Cedar Tavern. During these years, Willis also participated in the Civil Rights Movement including the march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Throughout his painting studies, Thornton Willis became highly influenced by the tenets of Abstract Expressionism embodied in The New York School of painting, including second generation painters such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. His early work was equally informed by the more reductive paintings of Piet Mondrian and Frank Stella. These two polarities, Expressionism and Cubism were the early foundations of his paintings and continue to inform his work to this day.
In 1967 Thornton Willis accepted a teaching position at Wagner College in Staten
Island, and moved to New York City. He established his first studio in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. In 1968, he had his first one-person show at the Henri Gallery in Washington, DC. In New York, Willis met fellow painters, Dan Christensen, Jules Olitski, Ken Showell as well as sculptors and installation artists Richard Serra, Alan Saret, and Gordon Matta-Clark, all working out of a process art orientation.
Shortly after the exhibition entitled Painting: 40 Years,” a retrospective at the Sideshow Gallery in 2007, Willis returned to a rectilinear format. Combining the early “Slat” paintings, with exploration of form and field in his “Wedge” series, he created a body of work he entitled “Lattices” where lines appear to weave forward and back. Michael Feldman documented the transition to this new work in a film, in 2008-09, Portrait of an American Painter In 2009, Willis had a one person show at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery, with catalog entitled The Lattice Paintings essay, by James Panero of The New Criterion. In his essay, Panero writes, “Ever since his wedge paintings in 1970s, Thornton has played with the density of volumes, the interaction of colors to come forward and recede, and the character of the line.”
Two years later, in 2011, Willis took on form over field where form or volume appear to dominate the line. The resulting images harken to the
dense mass of city buildings and maps. In an essay for this new series, Lance Esplund writes: “Those who have followed Willis’s work over the years may see his current series of paintings as a departure from “Slats” of the 1960s, the “Wedges,” or “Fins,” of the 1970s and early ’80s, the triangular facets of recent years, and the “Lattice” paintings from his last show, in 2009, at Elizabeth Harris. But all of these pictures have in common the allover surface plane held in tension, between figure and ground, as an interwoven field. They also share the subject of the urban landscape”
Willis continued to show with Elizabeth Harris, and in April 2013, had a one-person show of new “Step” paintings. The artist included in the show, consisting predominantly of his paintings, several three dimensional painted wall pieces or assemblages. The wall sculptures, starting with a painted canvas base, are built up with layers of found objects and painted wood. Also in April and May 2013, two large paintings by Willis were exhibited at Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison, New York, in the exhibition entitled, “Works of the Jenney Archive.”
Partial biography is from wikipedia. I focused on his “grid” paintings part of the bio since that’s what I was inspired from.
“I invent, find, and borrow ways of making painterly statements, which reflect my person to the extent that I am able to reach into that core of my being. It’s a kind of self-analysis that requires a balance between the rational and the intuited.” ~ Thornton Willis
It was difficult to choose what I wanted to paint from all his different styles and focus. I thought a play on the grid painting would be fun. I hope you enjoy my piece and I’ll see you tomorrow on Day 182…the OFFICIAL halfway mark! Best, Linda