Artist Torey Thornton and I are in their Brooklyn on a late July evening as, outside, a storm is breaking a long heat wave. Inside, Thornton is deciding how much to say about three new paintings destined for their solo show iat the Modern Art gallery in London.
The paintings are so different from one another that, at a glance, it might be hard to believe the same artist is responsible for them all. The first is the most traditional: a large silver canvas shaped like an upside-down, a few hairs from Thornton’s paintbrush clinging to its surface, and the phrases scrawled across it in spray paint. The second is a paint-splattered piece of cardboard with a sizeable hole in it, affixed to a thick panel. Rising like a flagpole next to those two is the third a 9-foot-tall, 2-inch-wide metal stud holding a wooden dowel that’s nearly as tall, and painted with red and green stripes. They all share a certain scrappy, taut intelligence
“This whole show is supposed to be” Thornton begins, then stops to think. They—Thornton identifies as gender non binary and uses they them pronouns—are sitting in an office chair, wearing a black baseball cap, short shorts, and high socks. They continue, “I think I won’t say. I’ll wait. It’ll be really apparent when it comes out.”
Thornton is private about their process. They operate solo, sans assistants, and unlike many of their peers, they don’t flood with their works. “It’s almost like they’re mimicking the brands, whether fashion or Gillette,” they tell me of that approach. “A lot of the world, I think, gets flattened through this oversaturation.”
For Thornton, the ideal situation is for an artwork to be seen first in person. “I was always really fascinated by the mysticism and the surprise of a work,” they tell me. “When you come and you see this new thing, there’s a rush of emotional stimulation, whether you like it or not. It could be the most unattractive or uninteresting thing, but to see it all at once does something.”
The truth of Thornton’s work, which has spilled over from painting into sculpture and installation of late, is that it is anything but uninteresting. The artist’s new works are events.
Thornton is one of the most closely watched young artists right now, and a rare figure in today’s collector-driven art world who is successful with both the market (galleries Shane Campbell in Chicago, Morán Morán in Los Angeles, and Street in New York) and museums (Albright-Knox outing and the Whitney Biennial, where they memorably displayed a gargantuan metal buzz saw adorned with painted rocks).
Thornton became obsessed with making art at an early age. They were born in Macon, Georgia, moved to New York to attend Cooper Union at, and have been in the city ever since. “I was really interested in not doing the same thing as everyone else,” they said, recalling their childhood and their teen years in and out of the punk scene. “I didn’t understand why people weren’t asking as many questions.”