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When a painter leaves New York: John Havens Thornton at Amstel

The quiet paintings of John Havens Thornton are on display this month at Amstel Gallery ( at The Yard, Floors 2, 3, 4, and 5,234 Fifth Avenue New York). Thornton was an American paintings star until he turned his back on New York for more serene pastures. Now in his 80s, the artist continues to paint, without the influence and chaos of the art scene we’ve chosen to entangle ourselves with.

John Thornton in his Boston studio, mid 60's
John Havens Thornton: A Survey of Paintings Spanning 50 Years, 1964-2014
Curated by Gregory de la Haba and Laetitia Lina
September 15, 2015 – December 15, 2015
Opening reception brunch: Sunday, October 11, from 1-3pm

Amstel Gallery New York and L&L Arts London are honored to present a retrospective of paintings spanning fifty years by the American artist John Havens Thornton (b.1933).
Before 2015, the last time John Havens Thornton had a show in New York was 1967 – at the Whitney Museum! The roster of artists from that year’s “Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting” show reads a compilation of names synonymous with stunning achievment in American art: William de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Andy Warhol, Tom Wasselmann, Edward Ruscha, Andrew Wyeth, Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Alex Katz, Robert Indiana, Georgia O’Keeffe, and amongst that show’s list of the greatest artists from the last century, an artist still working as steadfast as ever, the painter John Havens Thornton. A man who turned his back on the New York art world as the scene was starting to see him, and he never looked back.

John Havens Thornton, Installation View #2

Born to American parents in Mexico City in 1933, Thornton graduated Princeton in 1955 with fellow classmate Frank Stella (also in the 1967 Whitney show). At Princeton, Thornton became immersed in the picture-making mindset of the Abstract Expressionist painters via his professor William Seitz, the first person at Princeton awarded a PhD in modern art -writing some of the earliest major texts on Abstract Expressionism, eventually becoming an influential curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But it wasn’t until the 1960s -when Thornton abandoned the splashy and gestural emotionalism of the Ab-Ex movement and sought a more subtler and minimalist approach to painting did Thornton find his own voice as artist. And it was this reductive work that the Whitney Museum selected Thornton for inclusion in the 1967 museum show – the exhibition that would later become the Whitney Biennale. It is from this pivotal moment in the early 1960’s that curators Gregory de la Haba and Laetitia Lina begin their survey of Thornton’s lifelong career dedicated to pictorial expression.

JHT Together

Rich with ambiguities of space and color, Thornton explains his work as “searching for the meaning of line as an edge or a direction that attempts to describe a spatial event.” According Roger Mandle, former Director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., these paintings from the 1960’s are “his intuitive exercises in which lines paradoxically “undefine space” through his exquisitely lean color palette and simplified forms. Against neutral colored backgrounds, Thornton has painted the elemental outlines of archetypal domestic shapes: shoes, trees, towers, and others suggesting forms that demand space for their presence. By the use of subtle transitions of color within these lines, he flattens the forms to abstractions that become cyphers for themselves. Thus the lines defy or “ruin” space and form so that we must confront his paintings as abstract exercises of great beauty and pleasure.” John Havens Thornton lives and works in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1963 he became professor of Art at the Massachusetts College of Art and taught studio art and philosophy of art until 1984. Selected exhibitions include: Robert Hamilton/John Havens Thornton – Selected New Paintings, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA (1967), Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American painting, Whitney Museum, NY (1967), Solo exhibition, Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA (1970),
Visual Memoirs curated by Carl Belz, Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA (1979), Landscape as
Metaphor: The Transcendental Vision, Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, MA (1993), Landscape as Metaphor: The Transcendental Vision, Newport Art Museum, RI (1994), Triennial, Fuller Museum of Art, Brockton, MA (1999), John Thornton Paintings: A Retrospective, New Bedford Art Museum, MA (2004), Line + Relation, John and Charles Thornton, Gelb Gallery, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA (2010).
Art is the coherent expression of personality.
John Havens Thornton.
Amstel Gallery at The Yard
Floors 2, 3, 4, and 5
234 Fifth Avenue New York,
New York, NY 10001
For more information please contact the gallery in New York at: 917 670 1148 or 347 754 1886

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