Joan Thorne An Odyssey of Color

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JOAN THORNE An Odyssey of Color

ISBN: 978-1-955260-43-5

Front Cover: Joan Thorne, Odyssey , 2024, Oil on canvas, 66 x 56”

Title Page: Joan Thorne, Chitara , 2024, Oil on canvas, 59 x 49”


An Odyssey of Color

March 20 - April 18, 2024

Published by:

David Richard Gallery, LLC, 508 West 26th Street, Suite 9E, New York, NY 10001


Gallery Staff:

DavidRichardGalleries1 DavidRichardGallery

David Eichholtz and Richard Barger, Managers

All rights reserved by David Richard Gallery, LLC. No part of this catalogue may be reproduced in whole or part in digital or printed form of any kind whatsoever without the express written permission of David Richard Gallery, LLC.

Catalogue: © 2024 David Richard Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

Artworks: Copyright © Joan Thorne

Catalogue Design: David Eichholtz and Richard Barger, David Richard Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

JOAN THORNE An Odyssey of Color

A Life of Exuberant Painting: Mapping Color and Mark Making

David Richard Gallery is pleased to present, An Odyssey of Color, a solo exhibition by New York artist, Joan Thorne, that includes eleven recent paintings from 2022 through 2024. This presentation, her first solo exhibition with the Gallery, focuses on her recent paintings but in the context of the colors, marks, and compositions as they organically evolved throughout her six-decade career. This curation is apropos given the artist’s painting retrospective in 2020 at the Barry Art Museum in Norfolk, Virginia and her inclusion during summer 2023 in, It Happened in SoHo, a three-artist (Joan Thorne, Thornton Willis, and Dean Fleming) presentation of early paintings from the 1970s and 1980s at David Richard Gallery.

About Joan Thorne’s Artworks:

Thorne has not used a grid nor any other all-over organizing structure to define and contain her compositions. Instead, she uses gestures combined with defined shapes or referential forms that emerge out of her long-standing ability to produce rhythmic strokes and marks that seem carefree yet effortlessly contained within imaginary or fixed boundaries. Thorne’s compositions are not templated nor purposely replicated. They are each organically derived from her thinking about the marks and colors combined with conveying space and depth within each composition while also unifying the emerging shapes that must be in dialog with one another.

The title of the exhibition highlights color, which is central to everything in Thorne’s studio practice, but probably no more so than mark making. Looking at Thorne’s compositions throughout her career, at first glance, one generally sees color and geometric shapes. Other than a few paintings in the early 1970s, rarely, if ever, are the geometric shapes filled in with flat, solid colors. Instead, Thorne’s geometric forms are either bounded by a solid or zig-zag line and interiors filled with marks, ranging from circular brush swirls, juicy lush swaths of vivid hues, or writhing, wiggling, and waving parallel marks of colorful pigment. Often and especially earlier in her career, the boundaries of the geometric shapes were loose and not always outlined with a single edge or border, instead they were bounded by the truncation of the individual linear marks at roughly the same length and location such that it looked like fringe. Thus, her mark making has spanned from lines, translucent swaths, and gestural textured strokes to jagged, solid, and soft imaginary borders.

Thorne’s color palettes have ranged from dilute washes of translucent pigment early in the 1970s to fully saturated hues through most of her career that range from primary to secondary, tertiary, and dichroic color combinations. A student of color and understanding theory, she is mostly intuitive as to how the colors and compositions work together—the temperature and push/pull effects create vibrant, kinetic visual activity as well as dimensional space in combination with the geometric planar shapes. The tipping point and profound change in how Thorne experiences and uses color occurred after a trip she made to Mexico in the early 1970s. She said the trip was “mystical” and “forever changed her life and painting”. One can argue that color and mark making are in Thorne’s DNA, they are at the core of every series, the constant and hallmark in every decade, intertwined and being the double helical backbone of her genetic material.


Besides color and mark making, the other elements incorporated in Thorne’s paintings become picturing elements and compositional devices that vary between series and over time. The residue or hint of many of these elements and formal operations from the past still show up in her most recent paintings, which is the curatorial focus of this exhibition. One can readily map in Thorne’s recent artworks her ever evolving compositional trends since the 1970s, including: geometric shapes, as noted above; her compositions in terms of more or less “open space” (more comments on Thorne’s handling this “maximal minimal” concept later); the layering of jagged, open perimeters functioning as framing devices and overlapping patterns to provide spatial depth and define pictorial space; and detailed, complex grounds. As the compositions evolved with every series since the early 1970s, so have her marks and motifs, making each painting and series fresh, dynamic, and forever challenging the viewer’s visual perception.

Looking at the detail of Thorne’s mark making is noteworthy in two ways. First, zeroing in on a small section of her paintings and isolating a particular square or rectangular area reads like an impasto, action painting right out of Abstract Expressionism. As such, Thorne’s gestures and compositions have been noted by Barbara Rose in a studio visit with Thorne in 1979 as she was curating the exhibition, American Paintings: The Eighties. Rose told Thorne that she ”understood Jackson Pollock . . . [and] used what he did to make it [her] own” [1]. Kay Larson, a critic for the Village Voice, also referenced the same Abstract Expressionist icon in 1981 regarding Thorne having “a bright overallness that synthesiz[es] Pollock’s arm with postconceptual brashness and an iconoclast’s attention to her forbears.”[2]

Second, and on the opposite end of the scale (literally) from micro to macro and aesthetically from gesture to optics, Thorne’s frequent use of all-over brush motifs across the canvas as the last addition of marks and color to her paintings (specifically referencing, Oseah, 1981, oil on canvas, 64 x 67 in), also function as activation elements, a method used by Op Artists such as Julian Stanczak. The small, repetitive shape across the canvas activates the viewer’s eye, challenging visual perception. Thus, the viewer is more susceptible to suggestion so that the push and pull of colors combined with color interactions and planes of geometric shapes suggest spatial depth and illusory dimensional volume on a two-dimensional canvas. This is an example of how Thorne knows art history, but more important, how to take that knowledge, expand and deploy it in her own aesthetic way.

Thorne is an expressionistic painter all the way through, exuding passion with each gesture and layering intense emotions with every color choice. She was influenced by late Abstract Expressionism in the late 1960s and 70s during her studies and early career as well as the influences of many other overlapping forms of expressionism from Art Informel, Art Brut, and German Expressionism. It is also interesting to note that shapes in Thorne’s paintings are not grounded, they float and are independent structures. There are no horizon lines or landscape references. Her interest in mysticism is probably more at play than any strong reference to Surrealism or geometry and Modernism. The point in noting the ungrounding of the shapes and forms is that Thorne’s paintings are pure abstractions, emerging out of her interpretation of art historical movements as well as her memories,


dreams, travels, and life experiences including psychological and transcendent experiences inspired by movies, poetry and synesthesia.

Vittorio Colaizzi has written extensively about Thorne’s artwork. In 2016 he noted she had a “career-long engagement with the problems of mark, composition, and pictorial space”. Further, he commented that the artist is comfortable straddling the “divide that pits expression against analysis.”[3] These are keen observations about the history and continued trajectory of Thorne’s work which allowed her to remain focused solely on painting the past six decades and never being at a loss for something new to paint. Her paintings continue to present viewers with such exuberance and a conundrum at the same time. Clearly, Thorne sees no need to decide one over the other and as much as possible serves both up in a single serving. Her paintings are maximal and high impact, highly reflective of Thorne’s personality and presence.

[1] Vittorio Colaizzi, Joan Thorne and the Mirror of Modern Painting, in Barry Art Museum, Light, Layers, Insight, 2019. p12.

[2] Vittorio Colaizzi, Joan Thorne, Analytic Ecstasy, in Woman’s Art Journal, Spring/Summer 2016, p. 40.

[3] Vittorio Colaizzi, Joan Thorne, Analytic Ecstasy, in Woman’s Art Journal, Spring/Summer 2016, p. 38.

March 2024, New York


Geometric Shapes

Geometric shapes, both rectilinear and curvaceous forms, are a prevalent feature in most, if not all, of Thorne’s series and paintings. In fact, at first glance, the large geometric shapes are the first thing one notices. After that, the elaborately filled interiors of the geometric shapes and dense, lush, colorful grounds become apparent as the viewer focuses on and unpacks the immense detail in Thorne’s paintings.

in recent paintings, as seen on the opposit page, large geometric shapes persist, but often, not fully visible. Now, the shapes extend beyond the canvas edge so we only see a detail of the form. Isolated shapes do exist in some paintings, but mostly as open framed structures created by a solid border, see Naga, 2022 on pge 23 as an example.

Joan Thorne, Amphra , 1973, Oil on canvas, 102 x 71“ Joan Thorne, Akivi , 2023, Oil on canvas, 66 x 56” Joan Thorne, Iconic , 2023, Oil on canvas, 56 x 66” Joan Thorne, Odyssey, 2024, Oil on canvas, 66 x 56” Joan Thorne, Valparaiso , 2022, Oil on canvas, 56 x 66”

Soft Borders

The soft borders, noted above, created by gently terminating linear brush strokes at roughly the same length and location to create fringe or hair-like boundaries of a particular shape. In the early 1970s, these shapes were largely blocky structures and /or the grounds of the composition that provided a border or soft frame around the canvas perimeter. The key feature was that the border was created by the tapered end of the cumulative adjacent lines. While the interior geometric forms were often outlined entirely or partially with a brushed boundary, the edge still read as fringe since the artist infused her compositions at that time with many lines coursing throughout the compositions in multiple directions and layers providing kinetic movement and illusory spatial depth.

Later, these forms became altered in at least two distinct ways. One was using the linear marks as the building block, but letting each writhe and curve such that the termination was a mixture of blunt and curved ends at or near the imaginary border. These coalesced to create a sharper demarcation of the structure, but with a wavey undulating border. This approach can be seen in Merengue del Tigre, 1998 and Miracle, 2024.

The second modification was creating motifs and suggestions of organic shapes found in nature, such as leaves, branches, beehives, oceanic coral and other wildlife as well as man-made materials including rope, rods, and undulating structures. These shapes were mostly found as open, line renderings, not outlined nor necessarily bordered, and always created with brushes. This approach can also be seen in Merengue del Tigre, 1998, Miracle, 2024 and Traverse, 2023.

Joan Thorne, Abingdon , 1975, Oil on canvas, 103 x 88“ Joan Thorne, Merengue del Tigre , 1998, Oil on canvas, 66 x 56” Joan Thorne, Miracle , 2024, Oil on canvas, 59 x 49” Joan Thorne, Traverse , 2023, Oil on canvas, 65 x 56”

Framing Structures and Elaborate Grounds

Iba, 1980 is representative of the geometric, zig-zag framing structures that Thorne introduced in the early 1980s. These structures both bordered and highlighted specific forms in her compositions.

This is also a good example of how Thorne’s fine, hair-like brush marks from the 1970s became thicker, palpable, gestural strokes that started wiggling, waving, and weaving their way around and through her compositions. The wavy lines usually did not frame nor define any particular shape. Instead, their allover presence provided kinetic energy, movement, and color throughout the composition, almost functioning as the ground of the canvas.

It is also important to point out that in the early 1980s, Thorne started filling the interiors of the bordered shapes with color, gestural marks, some sgraffito, as well as curvy and zig-zag lines.

In Thorne’s recent paintings on the opposite page, the geometric zig-zag frames, when present, have become less framelike and more motifs and connected lines with greater density and frequently joined by overlays of thick, brushy, translucent curving strokes, both creating an all over pattern functioning as the ground (see Chicha Morada, 2023 and Naga, 2022). The geometric structures the zig-zag lines once framed have now moved to the foreground using other compositional devices to showcase their forms and compositional import (see Akivi, and Odyssey, 2024). Also, a new writhing and fluid line has emerged on the top of the paintings, the final touch that seems intentional, yet free form as it meanders its way in a non-patterned, random journey over the canvas and supplanting the zig-zag line.

It is interesting to note that the new painting, Chicha Morada, 2023, at first glance, is the most reminiscent and evocative of the large zig-zag framing structures in Iba, 1980.

Joan Thorne, Iba , 1980, Oil on canvas, 54 x 54” Joan Thorne, Chicha Morada , 2023, Oil on canvas, 69 x 60” Joan Thorne, Akivi , 2023, Oil on canvas, 66 x 56” Joan Thorne, Naga , 2022, Oil on canvas, 38 x 46” Joan Thorne, Odyssey , 2024, Oil on canvas, 66 x 56” 2023 and Odyssey, 2024

Negative Space

Thorne’s paintings are exuberant and brimming with bold color, vibrating movement, and copious detail. However, as noted above in the discussion on Geometric Shapes, when just considering the large elements (the geometric structures / shapes) within the compositions, and especially in Thorne’s early compositions, those structures comprised a smaller footprint on the canvas relative to the grounds. Said another way, in the 1970s, generally, the grounds, i.e., the “negative space”, were the predominant part of Thorne’s compositions. As an aside, “negative space” is not a term one would normally use when describing Thorne’s elaborate paintings. Despite her data dense grounds, they do function as a negative space relative to the defined geometric shapes and framing structures for this discussion.

In the 1980s, however, that flipped when the multiple layers of geometric, zig-zag framing devices predominated the compositions. Later in the 1980s and 1990s, more curvaceous shapes emerged and became dominant forms along with the earlier blocky geometric shapes, both often increased in size to the point of spilling off the edge of the canvases. The compositions almost became a clustering of geometric forms.

In some of the newer paintings, such as Chitara, 2024, Traverse, 2023, and Orango, 2023, they have geometric and curved structures that both overlap and continue beyond the perimeter of the canvas, thus dominating the compositions with little ground and a density that is reminiscent of Cirque de Lune, 1999 and Fandango, 1985.

Joan Thorne, Fandango , 1985, Oil on canvas, 79 x 92” Joan Thorne, Cirque de Lune , 1999, Oil on canvas, 56 x 66” Joan Thorne, Chitara , 2024, Oil on canvas, 59 x 49” Joan Thorne, Traverse, 2023, Oil on canvas, 65 x 56” Joan Thorne, Orango , 2023, Oil on canvas, 56 x 66”

Negative Space Becomes A Shape and The Focal Point

In the 1990s, given the caveat in the earlier discussion, Thorne started honing the “negative space” between the outsized geometric and curvilinear shapes that expanded far beyond the edges of the canvas. The result of that exercise and compositional device is a focus on the negative space, i.e. the abstracted shapes between the more familiar shapes of the larger geometric structures that extend far beyond the canvas perimeter. These resulting and interesting shapes were often the ground and, as such, the ground in the negative space became the new focal point of the composition. Miracle, 2024 is an excellent example of this process where the void became the predominate shape in the middle.

Joan Thorne, Merengue del Tigre , 1998, Oil on canvas, 66 x 56” Joan Thorne, Alas De Olimpo , 1998, Oil on canvas, 66 x 56” Joan Thorne, Miracle , 2024, Oil on canvas, 59 x 49”
Joan Thorne Miracle , 2024 Oil on canvas 59 x 49”
Joan Thorne Chitara , 2024 Oil on canvas 59 x 49”
Joan Thorne Naga , 2022 Oil on canvas 38 x 46” Joan Thorne Chicha Morada , 2023
Oil on canvas 69 x 60”
Joan Thorne Traverse , 2023 Oil on canvas 65 x 56” Joan Thorne Orango , 2023
Oil on canvas 56 x 66” Joan Thorne Ionic , 2023
Oil on canvas 56 x 66”
Joan Thorne Odyssey , 2024 Oil on canvas 66 x 56” Joan Thorne Nazca , 2022
Oil on canvas 34 x 44”
Joan Thorne Akivi , 2023 Oil on canvas 66 x 56”
Joan Thorne Valparaiso , 2022 Oil on canvas 56 x 66”

Joan Thorne

Joan Thorne received a B.S. degree from New York University with a major in painting in 1965. Then earned an M.A. degree in 1968 from Hunter College, completing her thesis with Tony Smith which was a series of paintings.

In 1972 her work was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial Exhibition. Several solo exhibitions followed: 1973 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; 1974 the Fischbach Gallery in New York City; 1977 the Art Fair in Cologne, Germany; 1979 The Clocktower in New York City in May. In 1979 she received a National Endowment Grant and invited to join the Willard Gallery in New York City with a debut exhibition in 1980. Barbara Rose included Thorne in the exhibition American Paintings: The Eighties, at the Grey Art Gallery in New York University, which was reviewed by Hilton Kramer for the Sunday Edition of the New York Times. A solo exhibition with the Dart Gallery in Chicago followed and paintings at the Grand Palais in Paris in a group exhibition organized by the Société des Artistes Indépendants.

In 1981 Thorne’s works were included in another edition of the Whitney Museum’s Biennial Exhibition. In 1982, a solo show at the Willard Gallery and a drawing show at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery in Buffalo, New York. In 1983 she had a solo show at the Dart Gallery in Chicago; John, Yau wrote an article that was published in Arts Magazine; and received a National Endowment Grant in Painting. In 1985 she had a one-person exhibition at the Graham Modern Gallery in New York with a catalog and essay by John Yau. Stephen Westfall wrote about her work in Art in America Magazine in December 1985.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters selected Thorne to participate in the “Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts” in 2020. In 2021 she had a four-decade retrospective at the Barry Art Museum in Norfolk VA with a 54-page catalog and essay by Richard Vine the Managing Editor of Art In America Magazine. Another essay was written by Vittorio Colaizzi, art historian.

Thorne was a recipient of the Prix de Rome Fellowship to paint at the American Academy in Rome, the Pollock Krasner Grant for painting (twice) and the Gottlieb Grant among others.

Thorne’s artworks are in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, Albright Knox Gallery of Art in Buffalo, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas and the Cincinnati Art Museum Cincinnati, Ohio, Barry Art Museum, Norfolk, VA among others.

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