Descendant of One
Instagram has proven to be a great environment for artists, musicians, and photographers. Some of the most famous people can be found there, wandering its virtual halls, showing off, showing out, or showing as much as Zuckerberg’s censor bots will allow. The one thing you don’t expect is to receive a follow from an accomplished artist, who happens to be the descendant of an iconic sculptor, and whose family are renowned artists in their own right.
Alexander Giampietro journeyed from Italy with his family at the age of fifteen years old in 1928, eventually growing up to be a brilliant sculptor, and unwittingly creating a legacy of generations of artists would follow in his hallowed footsteps. His work is part of several permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art, The Smithsonian, and the Vatican. His grandson, Aaron B. Thornton (formerly of Connecticut, who currently resides in Brooklyn) has built quite a reputation for himself. He has taken two artforms, and fashioned multidimensional creations that must be experienced as well as seen. Though inspired by Alexander Giampietro, and though he may favor his grandfather’s chiseled features, Aaron is no ersatz shadow of his famed ancestor.
What seems to be a common first question when having a discussion with artists, is what inspired them to become one. It’s a prosaic question I would prefer to avoid, but in your case I feel I must. Your grandfather was famed sculptor Alexander Giampietro, and other members of your family are themselves artists. How did you become an artist? Had you been always so inclined, or was there some point in your young life, when you looked at (perhaps) your grandfather’s work and thought “I want to do that”?
That's a fair question. I always had interest but was a nationally ranked decathlete, state champion, and collegiate record holder at the University of Connecticut. So, I put a lot of focus and energy into that, since I was having success in that field. Once I stopped competing, I started drawing. When I moved out to L.A. I quickly found it to be cathartic for a restless mind, and discovered it was something I was also able to practice and improve at if I put the work in like I did with athletics. My grandfather was definitely an influence, as well as my mom who's a painter. I started studying the masters, and dreaming of creating something never seen before stylistically. The pursuit that former greats followed to conceptualize something truly unique artistically, became very attractive to me. That's what drives me to this day, almost 20 years later.
You were raised in Connecticut, and currently reside in Brooklyn. It seems quite a few of your pieces are Gotham-centric, or at least inspired by New York. Which environment has had the most influence on your art?
The meditative peace and tranquility that the process of creating instills connects me to my rural childhood, regardless of the subject I'm working on. But I'm definitely inspired based on where I'm living; whether it's the subject or the grittiness of the style or fluidity of shape or line. I painted in California for almost ten years, and for part of the time lived near the beach. Then more inland which was grittier, reflected my work. Now in Brooklyn for almost eight years, the landscape and people affect my choices. The angular architectural surroundings gives my work a more cubist bent. The deconstructed walls and subways, along with the graffiti and daily sea of cultures is beyond inspirational, and creates different layers of style and subject.
Some of your artwork you’ve labeled “graffiti-cubism”; what is it, and is this something of your own making?
The graffiti-cubist style I developed, comes out of the environments I've inhabited as well as the influences and styles I've been attracted to over the years. I explain it as a newer, grittier urban type of cubism.
To my spectacle-dependent pupils, your “painting sculptures” have a 3D optical illusion effect. Was this intentional, a pleasantly surprising byproduct of your efforts, or just me?
(Laughing) For years I've played with textures and depth of perspective on the canvas. I go to Home Depot and cruise the aisles looking for inspiration. I worked construction when I was younger, and along with watching my grandfather and mother who used sculptural materials, I looked to blend the fields. Lately I'm building out the canvas with chicken wire, newspaper and paper mache to create volume. The potential for results and new directions for these hard to work with materials excites me.
Is any of your work currently part of an exhibition, has it ever been, or do these things even concern you?
I've shown over the years in L.A, New York, and Connecticut. And have sold to collectors in Boston, Germany, Canada , among many other places mostly direct to buyers. The gallery world can be a challenge since they seem to want you to bring the buyers, and then take a cut. I don't put a lot of effort into that structure.
From what I’ve seen thus far, you’re not overly fond of commercialism, corporatism, or capitalism. Is this something you discuss with others much, or do you let your art speak for itself, and let others make of it what they will?
I think you're right that I'm keen on what's going on in the world socially and economically, and the way that it affects people as a whole, and some individuals more positively than it does others. I do read a lot and discuss it with people on all sides of the equation. As an Italian immigrant, my grandfather was deeply religious and grew up in a different era and place, where people counted on one another for trade on a daily basis, and there was an organic human experience that he felt our society was losing culturally with capitalism. I have opinions, and sometimes they are reflected in subject matter that I paint, but perspective is an amazing thing to me. One point could have an infinite number of perspectives, and it's definitely up to what a viewer's life experience encompasses, which ultimately leads them to connect or not connect with my work. I am always interested to find out which piece someone is attracted to, and why it might speak to them.
Check out Aaron's website for more artwork, and follow him at Instagram for updates.