Sometimes it takes leaving to really find out where you want to go, the direction you want to take. Memories become your most valuable possession, the strength of your home giving guidance to the unknown, and foundation to what you do. The traits we manifest take part in forming who we are. What we are drawn to. What we do. You may be able to alter your environment, but it never really leaves you. Jordan Thornton has embraced the embodiment, and is back in a familiar place. This printmaker captures motions from her everyday life, her surroundings, and presents them in an active and engaging way. Her work stretches beyond the frame, and guides its audience to do the same, to take notice of the intricacy of life directly in front of you.
Much like her work, Jordan seems to be constantly reaching further, pushing herself to stretch beyond obvious boundaries. Her work develops fluidly, almost instinctual. She is absorbed in her craft, and conscious of the beauty within her own world. Often we forget to simply pause, to breathe in a summer day, to look closer at the trunk of that tree, to even take a peek at your own self. One must not forget the obvious, as there is a reason it is right there in front of you. ~Amy
What is the path that has led you to where you are today?
My mother really likes to pull out papers that asked what you wanted to be when you grow up from kindergarten. At least, she used to. She had them out for my high school graduation, and every time, without fail, I put artist. Anytime I’ve ever tried to do anything different, it’s very short-lived and I wind up hating it within a year. So it doesn’t make any sense to me to try to do anything different other than make art.
When did you first start creating? What kinds of things were you making as a child?
Just a lot of basic crafty stuff, initially. I’d always draw and color and paint with my Aunt Yvonne. In high school and middle school, my art teachers said: “hmm, she’s pretty good.” They submit you to competitions without telling you until after the fact. My middle school teacher did that a few times, and I placed. And Mr. Siska at O’Gorman would submit my artwork to things, and I placed a bunch of times at state art shows and state fairs and wouldn’t even know about it until after it was already over. My junior year of high school, I did the high school sculpture walk competition, and I won. So I’ve got a sculpture down by the barn that is currently headless. That was not the initial intention, but you can thank mother nature and probably children playing on it for that.
I tried to study nutrition in college for about semester. But I also took an art class. I tried to study graphic design, but I hated sitting in front of the computer. So then I was in painting, but the painting wouldn’t work for my thesis. So I started printing things, doing it on that really thin paper, so it would just disappear into the gallery walls. I’ve been doing prints ever since. It’s my favorite way to work. It’s really easy for me to take place to place, but I would like to own a press at some time in the not-so-distant future.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Montana State University in Bozeman. Still my favorite place in the entire world. It probably wasn’t good for my work ethic. I skied too much. But I also befriended some of the most inspiring artists that I’ve worked with. Especially the people I shared a studio with that year. One’s out in Washington doing grad school right now; we keep tabs on each other’s work. Another is out in Oregon. She’s doing grad school right now. She does more of the art business stuff nowadays, but that’s a great contact to have as an artist–somebody who knows the business aspect of it. The rest of them are still in Bozeman, or, at least still in Montana. We all got together at the end of the summer to do a group show. That was wonderful. That was where I displayed my first shadowbox piece, and one of them went and bought it. I didn’t get it back, but I know it went to a good home.
Where did you have your show at?
The Danforth Gallery in Livingston, Montana.
Are there any local artists that you collaborate with or seek inspiration from?
My introduction to printmaking would have been my friend Adam Goodge. I had no idea what printmaking was, but I’ve known him since the eighth grade. So he was doing some printmaking, and I ended up buying one of his prints and that was my introduction. I started to take classes at Montana State. We’ve done some collaborative drawings, but as for collaborative work, I don’t do it very often. This bear and guitar print is as close to collaborating as I’ve gotten.
Where’s your press? Or do you just use the back of the spoon?
I use a disk barren. I have two them, just because the balls in the back wear out, and you put a little oil on there to help it slide across the paper nicely, and it prints just fine.
What type of wood do you like to use?
I used to try and use repurposed wood, just to shoot for being super environmentally friendly. But to get the really fine lines I have to use a certain kind of plywood [that I get] off of McClain’s [Printing and Supply].
Did you do those Coca-Cola prints over there?
Yes. Those are from my door installation that I’d done in the past. I took a bunch of cabinet doors and screwed them into the gallery wall. You’d open the doors and there’d be a print pasted on the wall behind them. I’m trying to figure out how to use them without the doors.
How do you keep yourself in check? Do you show your work to other people before public viewing, or do you go through your own intuition?
That’s something I’m still learning, especially after graduating from MSU. Right away I shared a studio with my friends and we would do group shows and work together and it was like we were still in school. We were all critiquing each other’s work and encouraging each other. Then we dispersed from the area. I kind of struggled to have people always keeping tabs on my work, but I’ve kept in touch with those people, and that’s been helpful. At this point in time, you guys [JAM] and the group down at Exposure are the closest I’ve had to an art community since I graduated. And that’s a major bonus of coming back to South Dakota.
How long have you been back?
Just since September.
Do you want to talk more about your current work?
Right now I’m working on a series of prints that are all based off of botanical illustrations. So, plants, but more the root aspect of it. Stepping back to the door installation I’ve done, I was just trying to find other ways to display prints that were less traditional than the rectangle, matted frame–something that could go beyond that rectangle. That was what I was trying to do with those doors. But there wasn’t a level of depth with the prints behind those doors. It just wasn’t enough. So right now I’m trying to pin these prints into shadowboxes.The idea was to make them look like a scientific display. But then I started moving the roots outside the shadowboxes, playing with the space around it as well as inside the box.
Do you think you’re connecting to the roots theme because you’ve moved home?
That’s a really good point. One of my colleagues from MSU had mentioned to me at one point that he could see my roots, my Midwestern upbringing, in my work when he looked at it. At first I was like, ‘Oh God. Really?’ I totally was not okay with that. Now I’ve grown into the idea, and I want to push it as far as I can. I don’t think my work has done that because I’ve come home. I think I came home to see how far I can push that idea. My home is obvious in my work. If you know where I’m from you can see that when you look at what I do.
Did you do a lot of gardening when you were growing up?
My mother loves to garden. Right now, at her husband’s farm, she has a massive garden. When I first came home for the summer, the refrigerator was filled with tomatoes and onions and all sorts of plants she had grown herself. And she got really into canning. That’s why you guys are surrounded by mason jars right now. She makes salsa and spaghetti sauce and applesauce and jam.
Are you referencing beyond these botanical drawings? Are you looking at an actual sweet potato and going from that when you do your sketches?
Both. I didn’t find a drawing that looked exactly like that sweet potato. I like the potato in one drawing and the flower in the other. But I didn’t like anybody’s vine drawing so I found my own. I kind of pick and choose my references and turn it into what I want. My mom had sweet potatoes in her garden this summer.
For archival purposes, how does that work with the paper being more delicate and coming out of the shadow box?
That is why I have this encaustic stuff. I cut the prints off, then I lay them in wax, then I put them in the shadowbox. It makes them a little less flimsy.
Do you think being archival is important?
No, not necessarily. I don’t care if my pieces last forever, if they get damaged or beat up. It’s part of the life cycle of everything.
Your subject matter is pretty ephemeral, too.
Yeah. And I have a very continuous theme within my work that has to do with something beginning one way, then continuously changing. We’re never done becoming who we are. One good example is the plants. They start as a seed. They turn into this beautiful flowering plant. Then we dig them out of the ground and eat them. Eventually they become…shit. I couldn’t think of a nicer way to say that. Then that becomes compost and eventually is used to grow something else.
How large are your runs, usually?
Given that I’m still printing by hand, my wrist gets tired at about twenty. So that’s usually where I’ll stop.
Do you still print by hand by choice?
It’s more due to resources. I’m trying to save up to get a press to make this a little easier. At the same time, some of my prints get a little big, so I would need a certain size press. I would prefer to not print by hand.
Would you do anything differently if you had a press?
There are a bunch of different ways I would do prints if I had a press that I can’t do by hand–different ways of etching and engraving. You can engrave in all sorts of materials. All I do is carve out an image, which is a little different from engraving. But with engraving, you can get more detail, and I would never be able to pick that up with handprinting. It would be impossible. I would love to be able to do prints where I could get that kind of detail, so that’s on the to-do list, but for right now I’m using what’s available to me. And that’s something that can be referenced in a body of work as well. That’s part of the reason I’m doing the subject matter that I have, the sweet potatoes and things that can be actually grown and eaten. I’m essentially doing plants that I would find either hiking somewhere where I would live or hiking in my mother’s garden.
You did Studio 301. Have you shown anywhere else?
In the short time that I have been back, no. We are putting together an employee show at Coffea for March. So I intend to have work in that, which is cool.
Are there a lot of artists at Coffea?
Do you go to art shows around Sioux Falls at all?
Yes, unless I’m working, I try to make it every First Friday show. Thus far it’s my favorite night of every month. I honestly don’t leave my studio very often when I’m not working. It’s kind of my happy place.
What was one of the better shows you saw this year?
I really loved the show that was at Exposure, the “Women by Women” show. It was just a bunch of really strong female artists painting other females. That was cool to see.
Can you talk a little more about your overall body of work?
Conceptually, in my last few bodies of work, one of my main critiques was that I don’t like talking about the personal details behind it, the exact story in my life that is tied to a piece. That is one big thing I’ve been trying to do with this body of work. I haven’t finished an artist’s statement because I haven’t finished the whole body of work yet, but I’ve made each plant reference a specific personal thing. And I’m making myself talk about it, versus the door installation. They were all very personal objects, but I didn’t reference the stories behind any of them in my artist’s statement. I’m pushing myself to do that a little more.
I think it had something to do with the nature of the stories. [With the door installation] they weren’t really objects that made sense together, unless you explained them to somebody. With the plants, every plant is picked for a reason. The main flower is the Montana state flower, the bitterroot flower, and I had a really hard time accepting that it wasn’t working, me staying there. I was working as a housekeeper, living in a crappy basement apartment, and hating it. I didn’t have space to make work, and since I had just graduated, I didn’t have access to a studio. So that (flower) is just me needing to go somewhere else and do something else so I could keep making work.
What would you like to see happening in the art community, developmentally? Is there anything interesting you’ve noticed?
I feel like there are a lot more people my age doing art since I left, albeit I was a senior in high school and how involved in the art scene can you get when you’re still in high school? But I feel like I just go to the shows and see a bunch of people my age or slightly older, where I think the last art show I had ever been too, I just felt like it was a much smaller, tight-knit community. Now I feel like I see a lot more faces that I’ve never seen before. I feel like more people at once are succeeding at starting up new art pursuits, like Exposure and JAM. It’s a bunch of stuff popping up at once. It’s a much wider, broader community than it used to be.
What’s the hardest part about being an artist?
It’s such a non-traditional career path that no one seems to understand it. Someone asked me what my workflow was like the other day, and I said, ‘unpredictable,’ because you never know what it’s going to be. I’ll get commissioned work, like those Christmas bulbs I’m painting or a poster or I designed a book cover this year. You just never know when that stuff is going to pop up. I’m always working on my own stuff and I don’t really have deadlines unless I have a show coming up.
Is your end goal to be a professional artist?
Yeah. I like my other jobs, but I really don’t want to do them forever. I would like to be able to support myself off my artwork.
How are you finding your commissions?
Everybody who knows me knows I’m an artist, because it’s what I talk about 99.9% of the time. The Christmas bulbs I’m painting: somebody who is sort of related to my mother asked for my contact info and now I have that gig. The book cover I designed was for someone I’ve been friends with since the fourth grade. It’s people who know me or know I’m an artist. I don’t seek it out. I probably should.
What did Montana have that Sioux Falls doesn’t?
I feel like Bozeman is just overwhelmingly full of artists and creatives in a way you don’t expect when you get there. And I feel like it’s a much smaller community in Sioux Falls. People who aren’t artists need to start come supporting us more, because we’re not necessarily the biggest community in the city, but we’re a talented one. We’re something for Sioux Falls to be proud of, especially when we’re doing something that’s not a South Dakota landscape. We all know that there are a ton of really good landscape artists here, and I do some landscape work myself sometimes, but it’s really cool to see all these interesting installation arts or surrealist painters. There seems to be a ton of printmakers in town, which is cool. It’s a much more diverse community than I ever gave it credit for.
How many hats do you have?
I have a lot of hats. I did prints of some of my hats awhile back. I have two trucker hats, two black hats, two baseball caps, and then I have my Stevie Nicks hat, the hat I got in Austin, the first hat I ever bought, which is a red fedora. And I have a grey beanie, a pink beanie, a blue beanie and purple beanie. So I probably have about twenty hats.
One thing as an artist that I always have an interesting time figuring out is gallery relationships. I’m trying to figure out gallery relationships as an artist myself, the business aspect of things. I think I’ve got the making art thing down. I do that constantly. It’s the sitting down to take the time to take pictures of my work and promote myself and get into galleries. That’s something I struggle with; I think I’ve only ever sold a piece of artwork in a gallery once. It was one of the artists in the show who I’d gone to school with before. So I’d like to find a way to make gallery relationships a beneficial things for me as an artist. I haven’t quite achieved that, but it is one of my current goals.
We (artists) have very big egos. I kind of know that I have a little bit of an ego. You have to be a successful artist. But then you have to be okay with it, [telling yourself] ‘I’m going to sit here and promote myself constantly.’ Part of me doesn’t like that.
Find Jordan HERE:
artist website: youngandgreenart.com