An Interview with artist Jamal Thorne


What is different or specific to your practice or creation of this work?

Some things that are really specific about my work include image content, process, and the balancing of precision with emotional reaction. The images I really enjoy working with are usually emotionally charged. In that sacred space, I am always careful and thoughtful about the changes I make to those images, because they often touch on sensitive subjects like race, income inequality, and presentation of masculinity. Knowing how important these subjects are, to approach them without clear intention would be irresponsible in my view.

This leads into the importance of my process, because I am always having to think a few steps ahead when it comes to hiding parts of an image or revealing parts of an image. In my process, I’m always thinking about what I should keep and what I should throw away in an image. The broader “guessing game” in the process is the question of how these decisions will affect each layer of content (paint, tape drawing, representational drawing) moving forward. I liken this process to the way humans process events that occurred in our past. When we think back to important experiences, what do we instinctively remember, what do we instinctively block out, and how do those decisions shape who we are today?

Finally, there’s a balancing act between letting the work evolve organically with making sure I’m comfortable with technique and composition. If it feels like there is too much control in the work it doesn’t feel genuine to me. However, I enjoy a little bit of structure and I really enjoy representational drawing. These aspects of control keep me grounded in a visual language that I know well, while the organic nature of the process keeps me excited about the endless possibilities that can unfold in the work.


How did you begin working on this body of work? What are your inspirations?

In terms of aesthetics, I draw a lot of inspiration from painters like Jackson Pollock, Norman Lewis, and Frank Kline. When it comes to process, I take a lot of cues from artists like Mark Bradford, Cullen Washington Jr., Jack Whitten, and Leonardo Drew. I respect the looseness and spontaneity of the abstract expressionists, but I don’t think we speak the same language when it comes to content. Bradford’s process and his use of materials feels more parallel to what I am trying to express in my work. The same goes for Whitten, Drew, and Washington.

How do you want your audience to feel after viewing your work?

Ideally, I’d like for the audience to focus on the number of layers that exist in each piece first. I always hope that the audience can look at the work and see the evidence of what exists behind each layer. Whether it’s color, tape, aluminum cans, or a drawing, I try to leave at least a small piece of what existed before the creating of a new layer. If the work can put the audience in a place where they think about what exists underneath, then hopefully they will make the connection between the work and their own personal experiences. Whether it is a traumatic event or joyful experience, there is always something behind human behavior. There is always something behind our biases against ethnicities. There is always an event that shapes our values and ideals. I want viewers to look inside their pasts to figure out why their identities exist in their current form.

Jamal Thorne: Timestream Muckery is on view in the Kingston Main Gallery, and Julie S. Graham: Unexpected Places is on view in the Kingston Project Space through April 28, 2019.

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