Shawn Thornton: Pareidolia

CUE Art Foundation

137 W 25th St, New York

April 13 — May 24, 2017

CUE Art Foundation is pleased to announce a solo exhibition by Shawn Thornton, curated by Tom Burckhardt. Titled Pareidolia, the exhibition includes small-scale oil paintings, videos, and altar-like sculptures produced between 1995 and 2017. “Pareidolia” is a psychological term that refers to the human brain’s tendency to see patterns where none exist—perceiving faces, images, or messages in nature or in everyday objects. Thornton’s intricate work references his own hallucinatory visions, the result of an undiagnosed brain tumor in his pineal gland, which he experienced for over a decade. He also employs a range of images and symbols that reference 16th-century Dutch painting, mandalas, hieroglyphics, and indigenous and mystical traditions, layering them into interwoven compositions that invite the viewer to approximate his otherworldly medical experience, and serve as a mode of research into that experience.

In his painting Witch Doctors at the Eye of the Solar Epoch (2008-2010), Thornton presents a map—a god’s-eye view of a watery city or an entire cosmos—where water and roadways emerge from curving sections of pale blue, white, and brown. The same blocks of color form a sailboat, viewed from the side. The dual composition is overlain with a complex network of symbols: tiny rainbows, Coptic crosses, directional arrows, and skulls connected to spinal columns, whose geometric vertebrae look like railway tracks, rendered in brown and orange.

Thornton’s process is painstaking. He often takes over a year to finish a single piece, working with meditative deliberation to transform it into an object of shamanic power. Curator Tom Burckhardt notes, “Thornton creates a Gesamtkunstwerk around his life and studio, making paintings, music, ritual-like pop objects, and clothes. All of this is in service of rebuilding his mental pathways after a serious illness—a kind of tantric idea of how to hold an image in one’s mind as a tool of consciousness.”

Shawn Thornton lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and East Madison, Maine. He earned his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2000, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2002. Thornton was the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, and has completed residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Ox-Bow School of Art. His work has been included in exhibitions at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Stephen Romano Gallery, and the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study, among others.