Geoff Thornley’s new paintings are titled History. It is tempting to see this title as something of a summation, a long look back over his shoulder. It is certainly true that Thornley’s practice is one that has moved ahead with great care, always cognisant of what has gone before. His development and history isn’t linear but loops back and forth across itself making sure that nothing is left untilled. Thus Thornley seems profoundly aware of his own painting history and its role in what he makes now. Perhaps even more Thornley is acknowledging at this point in his practice that he is compelled to assess it fearlessly against a wider, longer lineage.
What is so extraordinary about these new works is that they feel so fresh and spirited, as if they have shaken off the weight of history that plagues so many painters, and found a way ahead that is open and generous. In a sense the history that they acknowledge is less an empirical one, but rather an atmosphere of time, a sense of dimension that can only accumulate with continuity and patience. It seems clear that these paintings do not indulge in willful nostalgia but they do acknowledge that looking is a layered proposition, infused with memory and palpability, association and clarity.
And yet despite the conviction and positivity that is evident in the care and making of these paintings, they have a quietly brooding solemnity that hints at some aspect of closure. Thornley’s idiosyncratic, pale pigments are replaced by darker, bruised tones that insinuate something of the demands of a long and unflinching practice. And despite the gravity of the new works, his customary delicacy and touch remain. The way that Thornley builds structure gradually, with a layering of grids that stabilises the form and allows for the space to breathe, has long been a hallmark of his painting, and they are apparent here. The colours partially merge in their horizontal journey, but the resistance of linen and brush conspire to create fine furrows that encourage the colours to sit into and above this fine registration.
One would never describe Thornley’s paintings as raw. He has always avoided the insincere authority of gesture, but in these History paintings he is closer to exposing the raw nerve associated with his painting. Never before has Thornley exposed so much of the matter of his practice. In doing so he reveals even more of the sensitivity that make his paintings so very fine
– Andrew Jensen, November 2018