One Work, Short Take: Terri Thornton in “Decades” at Barry Whistler Gallery, Dallas

by Matthew Bourbon March 1, 2024
Artworks, many of which are on paper and framed, and in black and white, hang salon-style on a white wall.

Installation view of “Decades” at Barry Whistler Gallery. Photo: Allison V. Smith

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
-Mary Oliver

As a rule, makers of things pay close attention. How artists notice and respond to the intricacies of their environments and the dialogues of their psyches defines what their art can be — and how it will speak. All artists carefully attune their minds and bodies to materials in the hopes that the process of making unearths and congeals private inclinations into tangible forms. The made thing is an artifact of the process of creation as well as a way to know the world and our complex entanglement in it. Sometimes an artist’s curiosities, absorptions, and reflections are implanted in an art object such that the charisma is undeniable. I’ve recently experienced such an artwork while looking at the “something for everyone” Decades exhibition at Barry Whistler Gallery. While walking the wide-ranging show I was captivated by many works on display, but was overwhelmingly lured into the aura ignited within a single drawing by Terri Thornton.

An abstract graphite and colored pencil drawing by Terri Thornton.

Terri Thornton, “Otherwise, silence,” 2023-2024, graphite and colored pencil on rag and hot press archival paper, 47 x 34 inches

Titled Otherwise, silence (2023-2024), the midsized graphite and colored pencil on paper artwork is nothing short of stunning. The visceral impression of the drawing suggests that it was lovingly pulled into existence. Delicate touches and gradations interweave to build a soft and deliberate surface that feels as much interior as exterior. Various marks and vein-like striations cohere to make a world altogether believable and seemingly inevitable. It evokes a landscape, but only in the broadest terms. The overall suggestion is of biology, cell structure, and the body, but without a constricted or pedantic agenda. Instead, I believe Thornton arrived at this quietly persuasive drawing via her being deeply inside the act of marking the paper; she whispers her deposits of graphite into an image of credible wholeness. In some ways the drawing is both beautiful and slightly unnerving or haunting. There is a permeable membrane-ness to the surface that implies appearing or disappearing — maybe both. One might imagine Thornton wondering, like Shakespeare, about “The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Or, perhaps, the transparency of the smaller cells moving over and into the principal shape is an emblematic nod to our interactions with thoughts, objects, and feelings. What is absolutely clear is how masterfully Thornton unites our looking with her looking — how she leads us to share her sensitivity of touch. We are invited inside her act of creation such that the digesting of her drawing proves both beguiling and genuinely felt. 


Decades is on view at Barry Whistler Gallery through March 16, 2024.


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Frances Bagley March 3, 2024 - 14:02

Matthew, You nailed it. Several of us have been trying to describe what we see in that drawing of Terri’s but now we can glean those words from you. It is a remarkable drawing.

Matthew Bourbon March 4, 2024 - 11:35

I appreciate that Frances–it is an extraordinary drawing.


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