Blair Thornley Interviewed by Kristen Fogle
Blair Thornley, artist and instructor at San Diego Writers, Ink, whose drawings are currently hanging in the Ink Spot Gallery, discusses inspiration, her unique personal style, and what she is working on at the moment.
KF: As a resident of North Park for almost two decades, you’ve probably seen a lot of change in the area.
BT: When I first arrived at the end of 1991, we used to roll up our windows and lock the doors on our drive down University Avenue through North Park. What I did like about San Diego was that it was old and interesting, much of it hadn’t been slicked up, and it felt authentic, like an old western town. You could park downtown and drive anywhere; there was hardly any traffic. Of course, that all changed.
KF: What is it about San Diego that keeps you inspired?
BT: The old stuff. I draw storefronts, architecture, signage, streets, and people. My favorite spots are going further east on El Cajon or University. I like the honesty and the grittiness and the shapes. I also like the light in San Diego and the weird-shaped plants.
KF: When we were speaking about a month ago, you remarked that the west coast just doesn’t collect art…or appreciate it? I forgot the exact word you used…the way the east coast does. Why do you think that is? Is this changing at all?
BT: Well, I probably meant San Diego; I can’t say for sure about the rest of California,
and, of course, there are some serious art buyers here. But a lot of the population doesn’t know what they are looking at. It may be that we are lacking a MoMA or a Walker Art Center. There is quite a lot of money being spent on houses, cars, plastic surgery, looking good. The priority doesn’t appear to be as much on intellect, education, or art as it is in some other cities. I think it’s fascinating to draw it all. But no wonder it’s harder to sell art here. I don’t really see it changing. I hope I am wrong.
KF: Obviously, you have a very distinct style to your work. How would you describe it? How did you come to develop your style and how do you search (or stumble upon) subject matter?
BT: I would just say that whatever comes out of me is a product of years of practice. I have been drawing for most of my life and doing it every day. I suppose one’s style emerges from just that. I was lucky to be encouraged by my family from the beginning. My mother was printmaking, my father is an architect, and I grew up next door to RISD, where my father taught for a time. I saw a lot.
One has to try everything and attempt to learn from everything around them, not to choose just one approach and stop learning. And then, 30 years of freelance illustration work trained me to get to the point as quickly as possible. Communicating ideas requires stripping away extraneous fluff. I put a lot of my focus on attitude and gesture.
I never run out of subject matter. It comes from everything in everyday life. If I run out of ideas or get sentimental, I pull it from my past.
KF: How would you advise a fledgling artist to find their style?
BT: Draw, draw, draw. Look at what is around you, and don’t keep drawing the same exact thing from your head all day long.
KF: What are you working on at the moment?
I have a series of work about California, emanating from my studies of El Cajon Boulevard.
Sculpture from debris.
Monotypes of birds.
Funny things about humanity.
Redoing my website.
BT: As someone whose work has appeared in galleries, famous publications, on TV…is there anything left to accomplish?
KF: Oh, lots more. I need to keep working. More shows, books, sculpture. Whatever I can come up with. If you stop creating you’ve had it.
**SPECIAL EVENT: Please join us for a Gallery Talk with Blair Thornley on April 7 from 1-2 pm at The Ink Spot.
Kristen Fogle is the Programs and Marketing Coordinator for SDWI. She is also a freelance editor, writer, instructor, tutor, teaching artist, and theatrical performer/director. Over the last decade she has been the Editorial Director for three national college entertainment publications (Warning, ForUs, and CLIQ). She earned a BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Northridge and MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies (Teaching emphasis) from San Diego State University. She also recently received a Teaching Artist training certification from Young Audiences San Diego. You can find her weekly theatre reviews at www.sdtheatrereviews.com.