Philadelphia based artist Shawn Thornton has seen it all, or at least a lot more than most. Struggling with mental illness for a number of years and continuing to create artwork throughout, he was finally diagnosed with cancer affecting his pineal gland in 2006, helping him at last to understand his unique perspective and condition.
Doctors spent years identifying his symptoms as psychosis and continued administering psychiatric medication, which only exacerbated his problem. “It would feel as if there were ‘doctors’ squeezing on different parts of my brain, releasing a firestorm of chemicals. It was so frightening and torturous that I’d end up in the emergency room the very same day I was prescribed a new medication”.
The size of a grain of rice at the center of your brain, the pineal gland has been scientifically linked to production of the psychedelic compound DMT, and is considered by some to be the ‘third eye’ – the door to a higher spiritual existence or consciousness.
Thornton has since had his cancerous pineal gland removed but continues to produce an array of stunning work, which varies from very linear and austere images to vast chaotic displays of colour and shape, littered with references to biology, indigenous art and an array of cosmic, spiritual and religious symbolism.
“I definitely see an intrinsic connection to my pineal gland and to what I went through, and how visibly it comes to the surface in my paintings. The notion of entering into a spontaneously occurring shamanistic or spiritual state really resonates strongly with me.”
After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign that supported an artist residency at Ox-Bow in Michigan, his work has only been gaining in popularity and we expect even greater things from him.
Keep an eye out for an upcoming UK exhibition and you can get in touch to buy some work through Flickr.