Shawn Thornton: Pareidolia
Curated by Tom Burckhardt

April 13 — May 24, 2017
Opening reception: Thursday, April 13, 6-8PM
Artist talk: Shawn Thornton in Conversation with Tom Burckhardt -  Saturday, May 13, 1:30PM
Closing reception: with performance by BabaNaga (Shawn Thornton) - Wednesday, May 24, 6PM

Shawn Thornton, Green Flame Hypnosis, 2017, 8” x 8”, Oil on panel.

CUE Art Foundation is pleased to announce a solo exhibition by Shawn Thornton, curated by Tom Burckhardt. Titled Pareidolia, the exhibition includes small-scale oil paintings, videos, and altar-like sculptures produced between 1995 and 2017. “Pareidolia” is a psychological term that refers to the human brain’s tendency to see patterns where none exist—perceiving faces, images, or messages in nature or in everyday objects. Thornton’s intricate work references his own hallucinatory visions, the result of an undiagnosed brain tumor in his pineal gland, which he experienced for over a decade. He also employs a range of images and symbols that reference 16th-century Dutch painting, mandalas, hieroglyphics, and indigenous and mystical traditions, layering them into interwoven compositions that invite the viewer to approximate his otherworldly medical experience, and serve as a mode of research into that experience.

In his painting Witch Doctors at the Eye of the Solar Epoch (2008-2010), Thornton presents a map—a god’s-eye view of a watery city or an entire cosmos—where water and roadways emerge from curving sections of pale blue, white, and brown. The same blocks of color form a sailboat, viewed from the side. The dual composition is overlain with a complex network of symbols: tiny rainbows, Coptic crosses, directional arrows, and skulls connected to spinal columns, whose geometric vertebrae look like railway tracks, rendered in brown and orange.

Thornton’s process is painstaking. He often takes over a year to finish a single piece, working with meditative deliberation to transform it into an object of shamanic power. Curator Tom Burckhardt notes, “Thornton creates a Gesamtkunstwerk around his life and studio, making paintings, music, ritual-like pop objects, and clothes. All of this is in service of rebuilding his mental pathways after a serious illness—a kind of tantric idea of how to hold an image in one’s mind as a tool of consciousness.”

Shawn Thornton lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and East Madison, Maine. He earned his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2000, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2002. Thornton was the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, and has completed residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Ox-Bow School of Art. His work has been included in exhibitions at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Stephen Romano Gallery, and the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study, among others.

Curator Tom Burckhardt was born in New York City in 1964 and has spent his entire life living there. He graduated with a BFA in painting from SUNY Purchase in 1986 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture that same year. He has been exhibiting since 1992 at various galleries such as Tibor De Nagy Gallery and Caren Golden Fine Art in New York, and the Gregory Lind Gallery, in San Francisco.

Burckhardt’s most recent show of paintings was exhibited at Tibor De Nagy in Spring 2015, and his 2005 cardboard installation FULL STOP has just completed touring the US for the last two years. He participated in the 2016 Kochi-Muziris Bienale in Kerala, India, where he exhibited a new installation piece, Studio Flood. The installation will be shown at the Pierogi Gallery, New York, in September 2017. Burckhardt has been a resident faculty at Skowhegan in 2007 and currently teaches part time at SUNY Purchase.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 32-page color catalogue, with texts by Shawn Thornton, Tom Burckhardt, and Becky Huff Hunter. The catalogue is available online, and free of charge to gallery visitors. For more information please contact Programs Director Shona Masarin-Hurst at

Download press release

View catalogue

Catalogue essay: Shawn Thornton: Pareidolia by Becky Huff Hunter


Shawn Thornton's Intricate Cosmos
Hyperallergic, by John Yau
April 2017

5 Shows to See This Week in New York
art ltd., by David Brody
May 2017

Shawn Thornton, Witch Doctor At The Eye of The Solar Epoch, 2008-2010, 12” x 29”, Oil on panel.