By GREGORY de la HABA, JUL. 2015
The last time John Havens Thornton had a New York show was 1967 –at the Whitney Museum! Selected to participate in their "Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings", Thornton – a Princeton graduate and Frank Stella classmate– turned his back on the city's art scene shortly thereafter and moved to New Bedford, MA, where he has steadfastly pursued his reductive approach to picture making ever since. On assignment for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, I drove to this New England fishing village a few weeks ago to lunch with Thornton (b.1933) and discuss his work, process and simplified ways of seeing things. The artist's home and studio is a converted 19th century stable that once belonged to a prominent New England whaling family. Originally built in 1834, Thornton's art-making sanctum predates by seven years from when Herman Melville first stepped aboard the New Bedford whaler Acushnet. I couldn't help but compare both men (writer to painter, painter to whaler) and feel Thornton and Melville having a similar breath of certitude during their early pursuit of creative freedom and artistic expression. No doubt! Because as we talked and feasted on fresh salad with cranberries and walnuts, ham and chocolate chip cookies, an awareness to the extreme distances such convictions have carried men the world over and over time immemorial was made evident –and as tangible as the two hundred year old setts the car drove over on my way out the historic port city epitomized in Moby Dick.
Josée Bienvenu Gallery brings together a selection of works from the 1960's by this fine American artist as part of their "Present" series of guest curated exhibitions in the gallery's Project Space. Curated by Laetitia Lina of L&L Arts and art historian Roger Mandle, the show runs through August 29th. WM