• H i s t o r y •
Table of Contents
1. Youth & Early Years
2. Academia: Mastery of Techniques
3. Four Decades of Evolving Artistry
4. The ’70s: A Shifting Realism
5. The ’80s: Forging an Authenticity
6. The ’90s: Mixed Media Expansions
7. A New Century: Full-field Style Development
8. Floating in Space: Plexiglas Paintings
9. Mature Methodologies in 3 Formats
10. Exhibitions & Showings
11. Another Crossroads: Art as Synergy
12. A Collaborative Model
13. Public Artworks
*For condensed illustrated version, please view MOBILE ALBUM
Youth & Early Years
Amy Thornton could hardly help becoming an artist. Born to artistic parents who involved her early on in a diversity of artistic disciplines, creativity became second nature.
These early pursuits included painting in her father’s art studio; spinning wool on her mother’s Scandinavian spinning wheel; weaving on the loom her father built; building and firing ceramics in her mother’s kiln; silversmithing jewelry; hand setting type and printing projects on the family’s 1859 letterpress; and taking years of piano and guitar lessons.
Amy participated in juried art shows, workshops and special art projects throughout her early years and was selected to participate in a ground-breaking gifted and talented program in high school, where she developed and taught art classes in public schools.
Additional early honors included providing musical accompaniments for three chorale groups and winning Creative Arts Symposium Scholarships as well as a creative writing competition to become a good will ambassador to Brazil for a national organization.
“I can never remember a time when I wasn’t creating something. Learning to draw or paint, sew or play music, I emulated my parents, who were whirling dervishes of creative gumption.”
Artistically speaking, a four-year-old Amy drew her family, impressing with her distinct colorful fashions for each family member, including her sister’s vibrant green shoes. At six, she drew a lively white-feathered chicken dancing across a black sky, an apparent precursor to her future career as an expressionistic painter. Throughout her early artwork Amy employs expressive line, detail and color that suggests what would become her signature artistic style.
Academia: Mastery of Techniques
Fine Art studies at Colorado State University included extensive course work in drawing, painting, printmaking, art history, dance and graphic design. Amy received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with special honors.
For her senior year, she created her own Honors Degree curriculum that included a three-part practicum thesis based on her action-painting.
Part one culminated in a solo exhibition in the Fine Arts Gallery of Fort Collins. Part two included her original choreography of Sequenza, a contemporary dance piece performed with a live flute solo and four black-clad dancers whose calligraphic shapes weaved across the stage in a “live” painting.
For part three of her thesis curriculum, Amy developed and instructed Discovery thru Drawing, a college course in experimental and expressionistic drawing techniques. Thornton graduated summa cum laude with honors from Colorado State University as the Outstanding Graduating Senior in the Department of Art.
After college Amy traveled extensively throughout Europe, studying in legendary art museums and visiting landmarks she had studied in art history for years.
“In those days, buying a Eurail pass and traveling through Europe was a right of passage for young artists. Spending time in the Louvre or the Vatican took my education to a tangible experiential level.”
Before returning to Colorado, Amy studied, lived and worked in London, England.
During the late 1980s to mid-1990s she obtained further education at New York University in Manhattan, where she lived, worked and showed her artwork in multiple showings around the city. Additional education included exhibition design and production for the International Center of Photography.
Four Decades of Evolving Artistry
Like the intricate terrain lacing a Colorado hiking trail, Amy Thornton’s exceptional fine art career has followed its own weaving topography.
Thornton’s life-long love of creative expression in multiple forms shows us how decades of life experience influence an artist’s development.
From mastering classical realism to venturing into the unknown, she continually challenges and uncovers new layers of creative impulse.
The ’70s: A Shifting Realism
Thornton’s artistry began with learning the fundamentals taught by her father and early art teachers in school. She mastered multiple disciplines and mediums such as ink, charcoal, pastel drawing and watercolor painting.
Extensive university coursework included figure drawing, oil painting and printmaking with a special focus on lithography. Consistent throughout her early representational work in drawing and painting is her quality of expressive line and movement.
“Self-portraits were a significant part of my classical studies. I loved drawing the figure and found myself to be an ever-ready model to paint or draw. Looking into those faces now, I see the complex journey I went through back then.”
In-depth studies in art history and studying master artists such as Rembrandt and DaVinici would lead Thornton to a major artistic crossroads. Would she continue perfecting her representational style in realistic art ― a genre already perfected by the great masters ― or forge uncharted territories to uncover her own individual style where no precepts or guidelines existed?
Thornton considers this the biggest decision she’d ever faced until that time and can still remember the overwhelming trepidation and apprehension of stepping out into the unknown. But the tension between mastering an “existing” style and the drive to find her own authentic artistry became too great.
“I’ll never forget the profound struggle I went through in turning from realism to contemporary art. Nothing felt “valid” or “understandable.” Yet something urged me on. Looking back, I’m amazed and grateful for the courage to step out into the unknown.”
Thornton’s foray into contemporary art was not an easy one. Yet her ongoing fascination with the energy of dance and movement would lead her to studies of “action painting” and the Abstract Expressionists.
Inspired by the artwork of Jackson Pollack, Cy Twombly and Mark Rothko, her early contemporary work included gestural shapes that combined vibrant contrasts of light and dark.
A series of early lithographs from this period reveal the artist’s contrasting struggle. Splashes and splatters reflect her creative energy splitting off from her roots, and explorations in lines and shapes create a visual sense of breaking apart and coming together again.
Another lithograph shows a more delicate treatment of fluted shapes, whispering shadows and calligraphic lines. And yet another lithograph mimics a sheet of music, a sonata of pulsing marks pushing beyond the score, complete with a crescendo of vibrato within the center of the piece.
The ’80s: Forging an Authenticity
In the decade following Thornton’s entry into contemporary art, her work reflected a vibrant tension between the confines of hard-edged formations and expressive calligraphic lines. It’s not surprising to learn from the artist that life’s tribulations would always influence her work in an artobiographic manner.
“In a marriage to my college sweetheart I tried to be someone I wasn’t. For a few years, my married name was ‘Garrison.’ The word itself speaks to rigid confinement. Art from this time shows this tension between structure and elusive gestures of escape.”
When comparing Thornton’s early lithographs to the examples below, which begin with a pastel in which multiple torn edges compound upon each other into a density of complex boxes, one might wonder where the expressive artist has gone. A group of five other pastels exhibit the same visual theme of tension between expressive freedom and formal structures.
A few years later toward the end of Thornton’s marriage, the artist’s signature dancing lines began to return. Elaborate structures created by early IBM printouts were layered with a vibrant frenzy of staccato lines. Three drawings from this period reflect Thornton’s growing delineation between motion and rigidity.
“While I was struggling to make my restrictive marriage work, my work portrayed expressive lines of freedom reaching beyond cage-like structures of linear abstractions.”
Through the late ’80s and into the ’90s, Thornton’s departure from over structure continued. Using multiple medias and formats, she embraced stylistic features that have since matured as the foundation of her artistic voice.
The ’90s: Mixed Media Expansions
Following her divorce in the late ’80s, Thornton fulfilled a life-long dream of living and working in Manhattan. The dramatic shift in lifestyle and culture would influence her work forever. Becoming absorbed in the vibrant energy of the city, she allowed her work to return to its roots of expressive movement and dance with a focus on calligraphic line and brushwork.
Retrieving her childhood studies in Japanese brush painting and flower arranging, Thornton rekindled a fascination with the purity of line and the importance of open space. In contrast to the structured forms of her earlier work, her Manhattan paintings embrace the purity of white space carved with calligraphic linear explosions.
While working in midtown Manhattan in the fashion industry, Thornton spent much of her free time in the Asian Art galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There she would spend hours sketching and studying the elements found within ancient Chinese scrolls and illustrated Japanese books.
“I reclaimed my artistic vision within the rooms of Asian art at the MET and my love of calligraphic line returned. Years of study and painting in New York City forged the artistic framework I am still practicing today.”
Exploring new techniques with her collection of unique brushes, Thornton spent time in New York’s Chinatown, where she searched shops for all varieties of brushes and special rich papers.
Soon calligraphic works filled her studio apartment on the Upper West Side. This period of drawing and painting would also influence the directions of Thornton’s nucleus style painting (discussed in further detail below).
As a life-long writer of personal journals, poetry and music, Thornton infused some works from this period with poetry and an introduction of soft watercolor washes. Three distinctive qualities drive these free-style paintings: movement, spontaneity and balance of light and dark.
Energetic bouquets of calligraphic arrangements and cursive excitement fill these works with an elegant complexity in contrast to the open space they float within.
As she began to create these signature groups of paintings, Thornton developed custom chop marks with special meanings and signed each series with a red seal. The Good Fortune Series, exhibited in several locations around New York, contain soft washes of ink in their backgrounds. The signature chop mark combines the three symbols for prosperity, good fortune, and trust, infusing the series with energetic good luck.
The Love Series, below, blends the rich blacks of charcoal dipped in water and the soft washes of Prussian and Cobalt blue watercolor paints. Compositionally, they display both a free-flow arrangement and a more structured rectangular presentation.
In the mid-’90s, Thornton returned to her hometown of Denver and instantly became revitalized by the dramatic nature surrounding her. The contrast between the city-canyons of Manhattan and the vast landscapes and open skies of Colorado pushed her artistic boundaries both in size and materials.
Experimenting with a variety of painting surfaces from long rolls of raw natural canvas to translucent films and glass, Thornton embarked on an explosion of artistic investigations. Early trials in three modalities on both canvas and transparent medias would eventually lead Thornton to develop her three mature stylistic formats of painting: Nucleus, Full-field and Plexiglas styles.
Thornton’s style beginning from the early ’90s in New York City resembles energetic elements existing in space. Similar to the four components of an atom ― nucleus, proton, neutron and electron ― these paintings resemble artistic atoms of motion and movement.
As defined, a nucleus is the central and most important part of an object, movement or group, forming the basis for its activity and growth. In these paintings a similar core concentration sends out radiating arms of calligraphic forms. Coining this format her Nucleus style of painting, Thornton filled these works with the positive and negative aspects of light and dark surrounded by soft clouds of sprays and detail splatter.
“I love to study Hubble photographs of distant galaxies and masses of nebulae in space. These beautiful forms are floating entities of unknown depths. My Nucleus Style paintings echo this same pulsing – moving in and out of themselves with a beat all of their own.”
In her new Denver art studio (five times the size of her New York studio), Thornton fell in love with the textural simplicity and neutral tones of raw untreated canvas. Implementing a variety of finishes, such as self-fraying edges or bamboo canes, she explored multiple medias on these raw canvas surfaces.
Oil paint mixed with charcoal, impasto gels and glazes under soft pastels, and string or yarn woven into paintings are all seen in works from this expansive period.
Thornton also began to utilize alternative forms of installation wherein some paintings resembled tapestries of fluid streams undulating to the floor while others were hung like banners or scrolls on display rods.
She also began building her Colorado collector base by securing several large residential commissions that used her raw canvas, tapestry-like installation methods.
These commissioned paintings reached new heights – literally. The Belvedere residential commission for a famous sports figure contains over 40 feet of untreated raw canvas. Suffused with both calligraphic motion and structured form, the Belvedere artwork pulls in specific architectural features found in the surrounding foyer.
Other canvas residential commissions display Thornton’s nucleus style painting mixed with geometric multi-media materials.
Ever seeking to increase the intentionality of her works, Thornton wrote poetry and blessings for a Collector’s daughters in a commission for a luxury home, hiding the text within the cascading threads and black vinyl webbing of the work and applying multiple layers into the final two painted panels.
“Commissioning artwork is a highly personal venture. The more I can bring my Collector’s personal intentions into the final installation the better! Art becomes more than investment or decor on the wall … it is a symbol of coming together for higher artistic purpose.”
A New Century: Full-field Style Development
Inspired by her parents’ love of Southwest Native American weaving and pottery design, which often contain a “spirit-line” escaping to the edge to release the spirit of the piece, Thornton began pushing her artistic borders.
New paintings filled with color and movement poured onto the very edges of each canvas, allowing the “spirit” of each painting to take flight. Imbued with the sensation of a visual dance that extends beyond the confines of the surface, these works allowed Thornton to dive deep into multiple layers of visual stories.
Stratus clouds of densely defined shapes intertwine with calligraphic drippings and sweeping brush strokes. Creating visual meadows of passionate movement, these Full-field style paintings from the early 2000s would include canvases filled with both vibrant colors and thick textures.
“Extending my work onto larger formats, an inner expansion urged me to explore paintings fully saturated with shapes, textures and strokes. Visual stories pushing beyond their borders. Rich layers inviting individual interpretation without visual scripts, the dance of these paintings can carry you off the page if you let them.”
Thornton’s Full-field style paintings possess a full explosion of color and movement. Along with stretched canvas surfaces, she discovered unique painting treatments on film and polypropylene surfaces.
Not only were these films durable, allowing a tough surface for using a diversity of palate knives and scrapers, they maintained a transparent quality similar to the parchment papers of ancient scrolls.
The trademark name for this film is Denril. Long rolls of the film allowed Thornton to once again expand beyond expected limits to create larger commissions, such as these proposals and door treatments at a Colorado spiritual center.
Textured Canvases in Full-field Style
Adding yet another dimension to her Full-field style, Thornton began using thick gesso to treat her canvases before applying color. Soon, she used the sculpting paste as her strokes and textures.
Featuring a monochromatic schematic, the subtleties of dancing qualities within these works provide a softer yet dynamically expressive finished result. These textured canvases surfaced at a time when Thornton’s artist father was suffering from macular degeneration blindness.
“I started using sculpting paste to create a tactile depth. My artist father became legally blind and I thought Dad would love touching these surfaces. He continued to enjoy the celebration of my paintings through a braille-like artistic touch.”
Thornton’s use of textural sculpting at the foundation of these works give the applied color fields a rich and provocative depth. Several textured canvas residential commissions have allowed Thornton’s Collectors more flexibility with their art investment through diversity in alternating future arrangements.
The influence of nature’s shapes is clear in these textural pieces; fields of grass, woods of interlacing limbs, green foliage contours and flowing wind all find suggestive voices in these works.
Floating in Space: Plexiglas Paintings
Beginning in the early ’90s, Thornton became fascinated with energy existing in space. Constantly seeking new surfaces on which to create, she began painting on glass and ultimately Plexiglas. The clear acrylic surface of Plexiglas allowed her paintings to truly dance on whatever “background-stage” became specific to each installation.
“The beauty of not having any frame around the Plexiglas is reflected in the total freedom of these artworks, which dance along their walls. Changing light within the space casts shadows which become additional elements of shadow-brushwork.”
Thornton’s Plexiglas style paintings evoke a transparent purity through which art exists on its own with no competing background or framed-in edges. Due to the sheer physicality of these large works, most are composed in diptych or triptych formats. Over decades, Thornton would carve a unique niche using Plexiglas as she learned its limits and pushed its potential.
In her early paintings with Plexiglas Thornton explored the sculptural qualities created by shaping the acrylics with heat. After a painting was completed, she added dimensionality by shaping the Plexiglas to echo the movement and strokes of the painting.
This would lead her to develop a more advanced collage technique that would evolve into her mature Plexiglas-panel style (discussed in more detail below).
“Creating an 80-foot hanging collage with Plexiglas panels and sculpted art gave this otherwise bland office area new life. Installed in a lower level of bank offices, we discovered that subtle movements on the upper floor created a natural effect of slowly moving the mobile shapes to create one of those delightful artistic-accidents!”
As Thornton developed her techniques for working on Plexiglas, these transparent backgrounds allowed her to create new thematic arrangements of color and energetic forms without any background interference.
Soon she began arranging her Plexiglas paintings in panels resembling circuit-like structures. Eventually this would lead her to develop complex, multi-paneled Plexiglas installations and public artwork installations.
“As I entered menopause, I experienced dramatic shifts. The analogy that my entire physical and emotional circuitry was undergoing a life-recalibration says it all. Drawn to images of circuitry and computer motherboards, this guided the development of multi-paneled Plexiglas collages. Finding beauty and balance within their intricate structures brought me the same internal balance.”
With over two decades of extensive work with Plexiglas, Thornton now leverages these skills into most of her current paintings. Her public art commissions resemble puzzle-like structures built in multiple panel groupings and then assembled on site. She also uses new laser technologies to further expand her works on Plexiglas giving us an exciting sense of even more expanded artistry to come.
Mature Methodologies in 3 Formats
Amy Thornton now paints within three primary genres of artistic presentation: Plexiglas, Nucleus and Full-field styles. Galleries for each format can be viewed in the gallery section of this site, or explore these descriptions below.
Existing in Space. Inspired to expand beyond the confines of any predetermined border, Amy Thornton’s paintings on Plexiglas float within space. Clear Plexiglas backgrounds allow these paintings to dance with limitless expansion. Multiple layers of panels installed at variable distances invite interacting shapes within shadows while changing light sources cast added dimensions within each painting. View portfolio of Plexiglas style paintings.
Bouquets of Energy. These paintings all exist within their own universe. Similar to a galaxy with radiating arms, each piece contains a central nucleus that expands outward in a whirl of vibrancy. Composed in either oval or square formats, most are painted on a durable vellum film called Denril. Acrylic paints allow Thornton to combine soft washes and thick impasto strokes to create luminous layers.
Developing her techniques with working on Plexiglas, Thornton found that these transparent backgrounds allowed her to arrange color and energetic forms in space without any background template. View portfolio of Nucleus style paintings.
Beyond the Boundaries. Richly layered colors and textures fill these artworks to the very edge of the surface. Painted with multiple tools and brushes, these works are presented both on canvas and vellum film (Denril), a durable surface resistant to tearing. Textured canvases begin with a base of calligraphic sculpting paste to infuse dimensionality before color is added. Layers of densely defined shapes intertwine with calligraphic drippings and sweeping brush strokes to invite infinite interpretations, allowing viewers to find their own stories within the broad expansion of colors and movement. View portfolio of Full-field style paintings.
Exhibitions & Showings
Beginning in her youth, Amy Thornton began submitting her work for exhibitions and showings. Her first one-woman show in 1979 was a culmination of her honor’s degree thesis. Since that time, she has been showing her work in multiple venues, from galleries to group showings and special studio showcases.
While living in Manhattan, she showed around the city in various venues. After her return to Colorado, she increased the public visibility of her artwork by exhibiting in multiple gallery, outdoor and festival shows.
Taking her art to the streets, so to speak, Thornton increased the accessibility of her contemporary painting and garnered invaluable feedback and response from exhibiting her work to the masses.
These shows also built an invaluable network of connections that would contribute to her growing collector base and increasing popularity. Group and solo exhibitions in galleries offered unique arenas for presenting theme shows and attracting an even broader audience to her contemporary works.
“Showing your art is one of the most valuable ways an artist defines themselves unto themselves. Hearing comments ranging from ‘My four-year old could do that’ to ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’, I learned to stay true to my artistic vision and keep it unaltered by public critique.”
Another Crossroads: Art as Synergy
Following years of participation in outdoor, group and solo exhibitions, Amy Thornton arrived at yet another crossroads in her artistic methodology. She made a crucial decision with far-reaching consequences and influences.
Her frustrations with creating “art for the artists’ sake alone” urged her to find art with a purpose – art with a higher vision.
Drawn to the rewards of service and participation with others, her new manifest would invite more collaboration and inclusion to guide her artistry.
By encouraging and garnishing input from her Collector(s), she soon discovered that this input gave vital life to the entire process of creating art.
“I could no longer invest in creating art purely for my own desires; I wanted my work to be intimate and engaging giving my Collectors a deep personal experience. Inviting them into my process was un-nerving at first – I had to check my ego at the door – ultimately it opened up an entirely new artistic paradigm.”
This unique approach was first featured on a local television broadcast in the mid-’90s. Thornton brought the Tillis family together and guided them to add the final touches to their Plexiglas painting.
Interestingly enough, the painting has since been installed in two homes, and the Tillis children are now appreciative adults with a continued connection to their family’s special artwork.
Also in the mid-’90s, Thornton developed a proposal to create art for the historic Denver Summit of the Eight meeting and received a personal response to her proposal from Hilary Clinton’s secretary. Unfortunately logistical complications called off the project, but Thornton is still planning to find a political venue where her art can symbolize the coming together of world leaders.
This inspired drive to create artworks as lasting symbols continues to drive Thornton to personalize her painting process for commissioned projects.
From this unique niche, the location and Collector(s) become “active artistic influencers” that drive each project, and the process nurtures the creative spirit of everyone involved.
Through the years Thornton has developed multiple strategies for including input and location variables as essential ingredients that guide her custom commission process.
“Some of my Collectors consider themselves uncreative and can’t imagine how their input could influence contemporary art. Yet, at the first round of sketches, they respond becoming fully engaged in the process. Their own stimulated creative spirit and essence contributes to the entire course of the project.”
A Collaborative Model
Inspired by the Fibonacci Sequence found in mathematics and nature wherein each number is equal to the sum of the preceding two numbers, Amy Thornton’s Collaborative Model is based on a similar equation wherein a series of progressive strategic exchanges between the Collector(s) and Artist drive the entire process of creative development. These progressive exchanges inspire a fully integrated collaboration from start to finish.
“Leonardo Da Vinci’s Fibonacci Sequence is a powerful inspiration. My collaborative process includes the same synergetic convergence wherein each preceding step guides the next … culminating in more elegant and effective outcomes.”
Much like the architect or interior designer gathers cues from a project’s environment and client, Thornton creates custom commissions that include the active participation of each collector or artwork team.
Preliminary meetings, research and sketches all encourage this collaboration. Influenced by her award-winning graphic work as a Designer and Creative Director, Thornton harnesses years of working within team environments to hone specific core competencies that allow her to deliver outstanding results.
Her abilities to envision, listen and follow specific criteria and parameters give her a leading edge in juggling broad-scope concepts and detailed nitty-gritty constructs.
“Collectors are invited to follow the entire process. Their online ‘Private Gallery’ gives them a portfolio of the process, which adds provenance to their artistic ownership, making their art a legacy to pass on to future generations.”
Amy Thornton has partnered with numerous types of collectors. Whether she’s creating a project for a celebrity, government agency, nonprofit or Fortune 500 company, she remains dedicated to producing effective and elegant artworks that reflect the coming together of everyone involved.
Continually developing new techniques for creating her Plexiglas paintings, Thornton is continually expanding the scale and complexities of her artwork.
Relying on her forty-year practice of yoga, Thornton also pushes the physicality of her art to a grander scale.
Creating artwork for larger spaces with more complex parameters allows Thornton to continue on an artistic journey that retains a promise of even more exciting evolutions to come. Indeed, there seems to be no end to the creative limits Thornton will achieve.
“As I enter my fifth decade of creating art, I’m filled with gratitude for the artistic life I live. Art expands me into greater connection with Spirit, myself and others. In that union, I find a connection of creative energy that holds limitless power and possibilities.”