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29 May Artist Spotlight: J. R. Thornburg

When did you start your career in art? How long have you known you wanted to be an artist?

I have been creative since I can remember. As a kid, growing up in Indiana, I was always drawing and coloring. Sometimes on walls, furniture and other items around the house, much to my parents’ dismay. I really thought I was improving everything I drew on. But, like many artists experience, I was told at a very young age that it’s not a viable career path. It wasn’t until college when one of my professors called me an artist that I truly believed it.
I began producing ceramics pieces in 2003, most of which landed in friends and families homes. When we moved from Ft Wayne to Charlotte, my husband and I immediately started a family. The chemicals involved in ceramics led me to begin drawing as my creative outlet. Since my kids are older and self-sufficient, I am beginning a new chapter as a professional artist.

Describe your aesthetic in 3 words…

Clean. Active. Inconclusive.

Describe your artistic process and preparation?

My process starts when I take a glass of ice water into the studio, tape a clean sheet of paper to my drawing table and turn on a podcast (I’m really into Marc Maron’s “WTF”). Once I’m settled in I just grab a pen and go. I start with a line or shape that feels good and start building on that until a picture begins to emerge. I’ve developed a set of rules for myself over the years to keep from going off the rails (which still happens sometimes). My main rule is that there are no mistakes, just opportunities to take the drawing in a new direction. Once I feel the drawing is complete, I begin to add the watercolor pencil, treating it as if I were shading. Once the pencil is to my liking, I go back with a tiny wet brush and spread the pigment. I don’t have a real vision for the final product until I’m almost finished. I just let the process steer me.

Your favorite piece you’ve created to date and why?

I really am partial to “Lion Tamer” because it was my first fully formed piece using an ink pen and watercolor. It has the movement, story and color I hoped to achieve when I was practising with the medium, developing ideas.

Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?

My personal inspiration recently has been a jazz musician, Esperanza Spalding. I heard her speak and saw her perform in Boston at my husband’s commencement at Berklee School of Music. Her talent, dedication to craft and general cool attitude inspired me to chill out and enjoy the ride a little more.
Professionally, Frieda Kahlo’s story has always amazed me! Though she was often bedridden after enduring a trolley accident, enduring multiple surgeries and a number of miscarriages, she carried on with the work. I love her tenacity and her use of paint to mould bold shapes and use of daring color just illustrates her moxy to me.

Biggest accomplishment to date?

My biggest accomplishment to date is my kids. I was a stay home mom for years and they’ve turned out to be kind, independent and talented individuals. They also make me laugh every day.

Favorite location to create/what is your studio like?

My studio is just off of the living room in my home. It’s, oddly, the only room in the house with a glass door. The upside to that is, I’m forced to keep it tidy. The downside to the window door is that family members, rather than knocking, stand at the door and watch me work until I look up. It scares me every time. Neither the air or heat circulate very well in my studio so I’m usually either too hot or too cold, allowing me to play the suffering artist.

There is an entire wall of windows that let in natural light and trees filled with singing birds are right outside. I keep all sorts of knick-knacks among my supplies. Mostly they are things I can’t bear to part with. Like a broken wood figurine of a violin player that used to belong to my grandma Vivien and this weird monkey statue, my mom bought me in New Orleans. It’s totally creepy but she just knew I would love it. My Dobby doll that I got myself at Harry Potter World. I gave him a sock but he still hangs around. Looking over my shoulder while I work is a cardboard cutout of Tina Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers”, my family’s favorite show. We are both the oldest children so she gets me.

A random fact about you?

I am a terrific cook and a lousy bass player.

One thing you couldn’t live without?

I couldn’t live without my family.

Your all-time favorite artist and/or your favorite emerging artist?

While I don’t know if he is considered an emerging artist, my current favorite is Leif Erik Johansen from Asheville, NC. I purchased two of his prints at a festival last summer and they hang in my living room. I find myself staring at them frequently and I discover some new detail each day. His color and dreamlike subject matter really speak to me as a daydreamer. He’s totally worth a Google.

Name one goal for your career you’d like to achieve in the next 5 years?

My goal for the next five years is to create a cohesive body of work using a number of materials including mix media and found objects. I’m in the beginning stages of planning an interactive show of some sort.

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