The Older, newly arranged. Brandon Joyce.


Written for Thornton’s Exhibition at the
Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study.
Exhibition Page here


Discipline in the midst of Undoing. I find that each painting could occupy me for hours, or something modestly proportional to the time Shawn actually spent painting them. Each part, a component for the regulation of energies, subtle transductions that took place, here and there, in some specific fold of his brain. Lines representing, for me, the seams between the brain and the intellect. Worked out and over like medieval illuminations, most of them, during his long period of illness. Despite the plenitude, nothing is spuriously placed or created. I believe him when he calls them “universal markers.” Heirlooms. Vessels. Signifieds and Significands. Tryptaminic, but totally controlled.

These paintings always draw comparisons to schematics, to ancient circuitry, and no wonder. The brain is a circuit, the world’s oldest; and his brain, a circuit that for years hid a nasty tumor in the vicinity of his pineal gland.
This holds great significance for Shawn. The pineal gland was once thought to be vestigial— or a wholly mysterious organ housing a divine function. A stitch that held Man to another realm. If for Thornton, that stitch came loose a little, it let in more dark light than normally permitted, in which he labored to transcribe some pretty weird intricacies. Just as, when in a lightless room— a camera obscura— we strain our eyes in order to make shapes from any small source of illumination we find. Details only come with time and care.

When we press on our eyes with our hands, we see lights and shapes that, after pressing for a while, reveal the workings of the eye. Shawn had a similar intruder pressing in on his “seat of consciousness,” and what do we get? Thornton’s cartography of inner space. Further proof for the Nietzschean or Deleuzian belief in the productivity, or even the affirmation, of sickness— sickness that forces us to confront the multiplicity of the Self. Seems true enough in Shawn’s case: “I felt a strong disconnect to the imagery and things that were manifesting inside me.” And what does he do with it? He tries to articulate this disconnect, make plain the relationship he is having with his “invisible assailants,” all the other things or forces muscling into his Self.

I showed one painting to James Weissinger. That one painting, he commented, contained, unto itself, “a whole religious system, its refutation— and its re-institution.” A playing-out of a terrifying multiplicity.

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