John Havens Thornton: New Bedford Artist at Star Store Gallery

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By Scott Lariviere, Staff Writer

The work of Local New Bedford artist, John Havens Thornton, is now on display at the UMass Dartmouth Art Gallery at the Star Store Campus in New Bedford.

The exhibit will continue through October 30, and the Star Store is located at 715 Purchase Street in New Bedford.

Walking into the gallery, it conveys a sense of warmth to visitors. Past the main entrance, Thornton’s name can be seen alongside a colorful piece of artwork full of red, green, yellow, and black lines. Abstract paintings line the gallery.

On Thursday October 13, exhibit visitors had the honor of meeting John Havens Thornton during AHA! Night.

With his personable and gentle presence, Thornton greeted guests as they came in to see the work, engaging them in conversation and answering questions. Viera Levitt, the director of the gallery, also helped host the event and expressed her admiration for it.

Thornton, born in 1933, began painting at a young age. He recalled the paintings his mother, an artist as well, had collected and hung throughout his childhood home.

Recalling when he started, Thornton says, “Like all little kids do, they have their color paints and they make splashes, and I’m sure at some stage I was given some paints to play with, and a space where it’d spill and it wouldn’t make much difference.”

Born in 1933, Thornton found inspiration in the war and in his mother’s Henri Matisse art books.

When asked why he creates art, he said “I like making things that I like to look at. My inspiration is the pleasure I get from looking at a painting.”

Growing up, he was also inspired by his mother, a strong supporter of art.

“My mother worked for the board of education in the city of New York. She was the director of the Students’ museum program. The city of NY had buses that they rented, and school kids would get on the buses and they’d get tours of the metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim Museum. So I have a long history of loving painting.”

Thornton graduated from Princeton University in 1955. His studies include abstract expressionism with Dr. William Seitz, a Princeton professor, whose work Thornton is fond of.

Something important that he remembers he learned from Seitz was that “rather than a story, a painting had to have a ‘self.”

When starting a painting, Thornton remembers what Seitz taught him, and said that “your subconscious has to be relaxed.”

When looking at his work, an observer can see the mathematical precision needed to accomplish the project, and Thornton says there are no messages in his paintings.

“When I lay out these paintings there is a lot of mathematics involved.”

In the current exhibit Thornton has a favorite. His favorite of his work in the gallery is “Blue Jay” which he says the divisions and the drawing of is very complex.

“I always did like “Blue Jay” over there in the corner,” he said. “I like it because of the fact that it doesn’t have bright colors in it and there is no certain design.”

Viera Levitt, director of the gallery and exhibit curator, chose the paintings that are in the current exhibit. She enjoys a particular purple painting hanging in the exhibit, but says that she likes all of them.

“For me it’s such a treat. It’s like opening Christmas presents; like getting these images that I can organize together in a way that they work and seem to be content next to each other.”

This free exhibit is open to the public until October 30 and will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Photo Courtesy: Viera Levitt


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