On Exhibit

Robert Thornton

He gave up RISD lens to focus

on his own canvas

By Bill VanSiclen, Providence Journal, 1999.

The artist: Robert Thornton, 74.

What he does: painter, photographer Where he’s been: Born and lives in Providence. Attended the Rhode Island School of Design.

Man of Mystery: Thornton is a perfect candidate for one of those “Do you know me?” commercials. Though he’s lived in Providence most of his life, and though he’s painted professionally since the mid-1950s, he hasn’t had a gallery show in more than a decade. At the same time, anyone who follows the Rhode Island art scene has probably seen his work.

Who is this mystery man? He’s the former staff photographer for the RISD Museum. “I just kind of fell into it,” Thornton says of the job he held from 1957 to 1992. “I was working as a research assistant when the job opened up. I took it thinking it was a good temporary job. I wound up staying 35 years.”

Painting at night: During the day, Thornton took pictures for posters, catalogs and other museum publications. Then, at night, he’d head back to his studio. “I was always painting,” he says.

But exhibiting was another matter. After winning several awards in the 1960s and ‘70s, Thornton decided to stop showing his work. “I just ran out of steam,” he says. His brightly colored paintings pay their respects to many of Thornton’s heroes, including Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, as well as RISD painters such as Gordon Peers and John Frazier.

Robert Thornton’s paintings range in price from $1,500 to $ 3,000.