Grant Thornton is a painter and tattoo artist based out of Jacksonville, Florida.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in St. Mary’s, Georgia. A small coastal town right on the Southern tip of Georgia near the border of Florida. It’s a very quaint and nice place.
When did you begin to realize that Art was your calling?
I had a lot of artistic experiences growing up but no one thing that was a revolution to me. I didn’t seriously get into art until I was in my late twenties which is a long time. I read somewhere though that the late twenties is a time of one’s artistic realization. Which I was 27 when I started painting and I’ve heard that’s a kind of make or break age.
Yes, well there’s a whole theory surrounding that age because it was the death age of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, etc. So maybe it is a time of either a figurative or literal death for some. In your case though it sounds more like a time of re-birth.
Yeah,for me it was a time of discovering myself. Especially if you suppress that ability for most of your life like I did. I kind of forgot that I had artistic talent. My parents always thought that I was going to be an artist when I was young because I was always drawing and continued throughout high school, actually it was my high art scores that helped me even graduate high school because I didn’t do too well with other academics. But again, I never took it (art) seriously and it just became forgotten over time.
What was the impetus then which restarted your producing of art again, especially painting?
So at that age, 27, I had a carpentry business. It was just my partner and I and we were doing mostly marine construction: building docks, boat houses, etc. I really enjoyed carpentry.
Sure, well that’s another art form, isn’t it?
Yeah an aggressive art form. I liked being able to grab the physical and shape it. There’s a lot of pain, sweat, and smashing of thumbs but to me, that’s real and I really enjoyed it. I was making more money doing that then I ever had before and so I really thought that’s what I wanted to do in life. But my partner and I had a falling out and the business went under. Luckily I had some money set aside from the business profits and was able to take some time off before I started working again. And I can remember what inspired me around that time to take up painting again is that one day I was watching the original Wizard of Oz and there was a piece of wood in the corner of the room and I just took it and started drawing on it with colored pencils. And I remembered I had a couple of old bottles of paint in the house and so I just started painting over the colored pencils and weird dimensions started coming out and I just started to feel really inspired so went out and bought a bunch of art supplies, came home and set to work on this painting that I really wanted to finish.
How did the painting turn out?
So it ended up being the yellow brick road coming out of a forest, winding up and down these hills with the Emerald City at the top of a mountain and the apple trees with faces and I just remember when I had finished it, I thought to myself, this is really good! I had never completely finished something before. Even in high school, I never really finished something that was all mine or all me. And so after that I just became obsessed and decided that I would just stay in my apartment, listen to music and paint.
And that was when I came up with my original set of paintings. By the end there were twelve completed and framed.
So then once you had all of these completed paintings, did you try to put together an exhibit or did you know what steps to take next?
Well, when I started I did have an epiphany, that this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life. But reality sunk in and I ran out of money so I decided to get a job and there was a pizza place near my house called Moon River Pizza where I would go every now and then and I decided to just go down there and see about getting a simple job washing dishes or whatever and I went in and the owner hired me on the spot. They also had an art gallery in the restaurant and they had a resident artist but she was moving away and was taking down all of her remaining art and the owner asked me if I knew of any artists. I said, “No not really, but I have a bunch of paintings I just finished. So he told me to bring them and he’d take a look at them. So I brought one painting and he loved it and asked me to bring in the rest. So as I was hanging them up in the restaurant there were people looking through them and asking me about them and I sold two of them that day before I had them even all hung up.
Yeah, so then after I sold that set I had been invited to do a couple of shows and I started making more money selling art then I was making pizzas. So after being there for about a year I was able to quit and live full time off of my paintings.
That’s wonderful! So many artists wish that they could make a living off of their art and unfortunately aren’t able to. This must have been a cornerstone in becoming aware of your talent?
I think I still never give myself credit for having a talent at art. It just has always come easy to me and I didn’t ever see it as being important or I was too easily distracted by other things in life to really care about it. People would always tell me I should be doing this or I should be doing that with my art. But I’ve just never been competitive with my art and don’t really understand that part of it.
I can see that. It’s hard for some of us to realize our talents and even when we do, there’s still a huge difference between being a good artist and being a good businessperson. When you are painting, is there certain process or method to your style of working?
I need to be alone when painting – no people, no phone calls, no knocks on the door. Sometimes it’s hard and I have to get drunk or stoned to get in this certain frame of mind. It’s like I need to dumb myself down so that only my hands and eyes are working on a painting, not my mind, that’s when I usually get my best stuff. It’s sort of like a trance and to get to that state of mind can be a daunting chore sometimes. It’s the opposite of communicating or connecting with anyone or anything, it’s about reaching into the blackness and I just need to be completely alone to get there.
Do you ever listen to music while painting?
Yeah, I used to listen to dark stuff like The Cure and Interpol and then after awhile and stilt this day I only want to listen to instrumental music because I find lyrics to be too distracting. If I listen to someone’s else’s story, I won’t be able to tell my own.
I see. And now that you’ve started tattooing, is it hard to do art with or on another person who is now extremely close to you?
Well it’s funny because I was just giving a tattoo the other day and had relaxing music on and the client said he was going to fall asleep and I said go ahead, and he actually fell asleep. So then I was alone again in my zone with my canvas. Tattooing is a very intense thing though, to be focused on a certain part of skin and your cutting into it and there’s blood coming out and you’re wiping the blood away and you’re just trying to put the art down and you have to dismiss the fact that this person is in pain right now and that they gave themselves to you in the first place.
Wow, yeah that’s a lot of responsibility on your part. What would scare me as a tattoo artist is the permanence factor, unlike a painting which can be cleaned and painted over again, you’re doing something relatively permanent on someone else but then again, I don’t have any tattoos because of that same permanence issue with myself.
Yeah, and I think a lot of people don’t consider the repercussions of wearing a piece of art on your body for life. But I can understand it (Grant has many colorful tattoos himself) and so I think I come from both sides, the side of a person willing to give themselves up to art and to be the creator of it. It just makes me try to do the best I can basically.
What inspires you the most in life?
That you have nothing but time, energy and ideas while here. I can’t tell you where my ideas come from because I don’t even know. If you were to ask me what any specific thing in my paintings mean, for instance, I couldn’t tell you.
Yes, I noticed that you have some repeating themes in some of your paintings. I notice the hot air balloons usually floating in the background of the sky. So they don’t have any significance to you?
Nope, I don’t know why I paint them. I’ve never been in a hot air balloon. I don’t dream about them. Things just come through me and I let them come. It might be that I don’t even relate to it, I just do it. For instance I paint a lot of apples too, sometimes turquoise apples, just because I think it would be something pretty to hold or look at, but I have no idea what it means. Do you think it means anything?
Interview of Artist Grant Thornton by Emma Kathan for Psychic Gloss Magazine 2013.
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