Hollis Brown Thornton is a South Carolina-based artist who works with mixed media and brings us back the nostalgic 1970s and 80s with his illustrations and paintings of many obsolete things like VHS tapes (video cassettes) and other outdated digital stuff. His art deals with our conflicts between physical and digital world and our relationship with objects that are discarded to make way for better and more modern stuff. Existential crisis is the prominent theme in his work and portraying the items of bygone era, Hollis is attempting to draw our attention to the ideas of change, uncertainty, and reality… and he does so successfully using various medium from oil pains to bold markers. In this simple interview below, Hollis is telling us about himself and his art:
I was born and raised in Aiken, South Carolina, which is also where I currently live. I went to the University of South Carolina and received my BFA in Spring 99. In August 2001, I moved to Chicago and took employment as Gallery Director of Mongerson Galleries (3 1/2 years) and Assistant Preparator at Russell Bowman Fine Art (2 years). Since August 2005, I have been working out of a warehouse studio in Aiken, SC as a full time artist. In April 2011, my wife and I opened the contemporary clothing boutique Threads www.ilovethreads.com, in historic downtown Aiken.
When did you decide to become an artist?
I enjoyed art on a hobby level throughout childhood. I never thought about art as a career until I made the decision my junior year of college to change my business major (I was planning to work at a family insurance agency) to art. That was the first milestone. Moving to Chicago and living there on my own for 4 years was my next big move. And, finally, moving back to South Carolina. It was very risky at the time in 2005, without the networking the internet provides. I realized I am much more productive here and over the years, the ability to promote yourself and create a career as an artist over the internet has made it a possibility to continue.
You can view my statement here. It goes over a lot of the reasons I use outdated media and old family photos to emphasize mortality and the passage of time, without focusing on the morbid aspects. And that is basically what my work means to me, making these artifacts that will be around here and there after I’m gone. It always fascinates me that we are aware that we die one day, that knowledge making us do a number of things like creating religions, attempting to medically prolong our lives, trying to scientifically figure as much of our surroundings out as possible. As for my personal life, as I assume is the case with most artists, it is a form of personal expression I’ve developed over time.
Over the recent years I’ve done some very bright, colorful pop culture influenced drawings and paintings. I’ve also made a lot of computer centric pieces that I then reproduce through a transfer process on paper or canvas. But ultimately, and it was something I started doing almost immediately out of college, are these rather stark paintings and drawings on white surfaces. During the past few months, I’ve pretty much been working in black and white, trying to reconnect with that sort of elegant minimalism that I was good at for a while.
I do some drawings and paintings that take a few hours to complete. Others, especially some of my large drawings and pixel paintings, take 60+ hours. I typically create images on the computer, then do a few sketches, usually focusing on areas of the painting or drawing I’m uncertain about. Once I start the final piece, I’m usually pretty confident on how it will turn out. I try to go over all the variables so the final piece has the best chance of making it.
Time and mortality… I basically make all my subject matter decisions, as well as the process of scrubbing the paintings with sanding blocks, to try and subtly reference those themes.
Is there something that challenges you as an artist?
Three times in my career I’ve gone through dry spells or periods of complete uncertainty. I actually came out of one that lasted most of last year and early this year. It was by far the longest and uncomfortable. That is the biggest challenge. Once I’m productive, I’m never at loss of what to do, as I typically have a number of ideas lined up. But when you run out of steam and that drive disappears, that is by far the scariest challenge.
Working onto a white ground came directly from Twombly. It just never occurred to me that you would work from white. The past few years, I’ve relied less and less on that foundation, but I’ve recently gotten back to it. The pixels, wallpaper pattern and the stacks of VHS tapes, I love the idea of something being infinite or uncountable. I like the idea of an overwhelming amount of a specific object or form repeated over and over. But ultimately, throughout youth, the main thing that I’ve been concerned with is creating a large body of work or vocabulary of techniques and subject matter that I can use throughout my adult or mature career. Perhaps I’ll continue moving on to different images, but I feel like I’m slowing down a bit in terms of my need to figure something else out or add a new thing to the group. But who knows, only time will tell.
Acrylic, canvas, permanent markers, and paper. I also use a pigment transfer process, which is a bit difficult to explain.
Tell us about your achievements and clients:
I’ve had some surprising clients, people I wouldn’t expect even knew of my work. As for achievements, I never pursue grants or competitions, so ultimately my main achievement is continuing to survive as a contemporary artist.
What are your views on contemporary art?
That is a vast category. I think it is just a wide open arena, where you can do anything you want.
Right now, I am in the process of a reboot. Over time (I’m about to turn 38), you go through so many different periods of work that you have a hard time looking at everything in retrospect and forming a narrative. It can at times feel difficult to focus with a history of vastly different work. My current project is a series of black and white paintings, using similar subject matter over and over, and working with subtle variations in the paint application. It is enjoyable not worrying about subject matter or color, and focusing on some of the more tactile elements of the painting (the surface texture, paint application, etc).
Tell us about your sources of inspiration and favorite stuff:
Cy Twomlby, Wes Anderson movies, Peter Doig, Takashi Murakami, a number of artists around my age (Morgan Blair, Roberto Calbucci, Fredrik Akum, Joao MT, Scott Listfield, Jennifer Mehigan), I absolutely LOVE synthwave music, it is almost all I listen to (Arcade High, Mitch Murder, Betamaxx, Lazerhawk, Futurecop!, 80s Stallone, Power Golve, Miami Nights 1984)… and Haim, such a great album. And any Boards of Canada.