Zachary Thornton

Oil Paintings - Portrait Commissions - Private Lessons


Born in Baltimore, 1979. Zachary’s childhood was spent exploring the trees, backyards and alleys of Charles Village and later the dimly lit suburban landscapes of Baltimore County. He attended Baltimore City schools through 8th grade. He then studied under mentor Victor Janishefski at Calvert Hall High School who helped to develop his love of painting. Zachary went on to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art where he graduated in 2001. His work draws from the mysteries, memories and stories of his experience. Zachary has been exhibiting his work since 2003 and has since shown in noteworthy galleries around the world including New York, Los Angeles., Italy, Spain and Germany. He is also a well established portrait painter, having taken on more than 40 private commissions over his career. Zachary continues to live and work in Baltimore City.

2001 Maryland Institute College of Art, BFA

Selected Exhibitions
2022 Gibson Island Gallery, MD, two person exhibition
2019 YART Gallery, Baltimore, MD
2015 Thomas Punzman Gallery, Frankfurt Germany
2013 Richard Demato Gallery,  Representation, NY
2013 Thomas Punzman Gallery,  Representation, Frankfurt Germany
2012 C. Grimaldis Gallery,  Representation, Baltimore, MD, Night Visions, solo exhibition
2011 Art. Fair 21, Cologne, Germany
2011 Thomas Punzman Gallery, Marbella (Málaga) Spain, Time Remembered 
2010 Janine Bean Gallery, Berlin
2010 Stricoff Fine Art, Representation, Chelsea, NYC
2010 Hot Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland
2009 First Gallery, Rome, Italy, Women's Life (extensive two person exhibition 12 works)
2009 Los Angeles Art Show, Los Angeles, CA
2009 Timothy Yarger Fine Art, Representation, Beverly Hills, CA
2008 YARGER | STRAUSS Downtown Annex, Los Angeles, CA, Corpus Maximus
2008 Los Angeles Art Show, Los Angeles, CA
2007 Bridge Art Fair, Miami, FL
2007 Robert Lange Gallery, Charleston, SC
2007 The Creative Alliance, Baltimore, MD
2006 Maryland Art Place, Baltimore, MD, Critics Residency
2006 Gormley Gallery, Baltimore, MD, Pulse
2006 Gallery Francois, Greenspring, MD
2005 Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Annapolis, MD, Art Noir
2005 Post Logic, New York, NY
2005 Maryland Art Place, Invitational Benefit Auction, Baltimore, MD
2005 Current, Baltimore, MD, Black and White Meet Color (Two Person)
2005 One World, Baltimore, MD
2004 Frameworks, Santa Barbara, CA
2004 Artscape, Baltimore, MD
2003 Waldorf School, Baltimore, Maryland
2003 MFA Circle Gallery, Annapolis, MD, Jurors Choice

Zachary Thornton has had over 40 private portrait commissions over the last 15 years including several local artists, St. David’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore and many others locally and nationally.

2013 Maryland State Arts Council Grant
2010 Maryland State Arts Council Grant
2006 Baltimore City Individual Artist Grant
2005 Maryland State Arts Council Grant

2012 New American Paintings, Mid-Atlantic edition (No. 100)
2010 Clark, Ann. “Why can’t I be a suburban hyper-voyeur noir-master?”
2009 New American Paintings, Mid-Atlantic edition (No. 81)
2007 Baltimore Interview, Joseph Young, “Sex and Mystery: Paintings of Zachary Thornton,”
New American Paintings, Mid-Atlantic edition (No. 69)
2006 Wei, Lilly. “MAPPING the Alternative,” Curator’s statement to 20th Annual
Critics’ Residency Program catalog, 1 - 2.
Gershin, Justin. “Memory and Disintegration: On Zachary Thornton,
Jessie Lehson, and Julia Kim Smith,” essay from catalog to 20th
Annual Critics’ Residency Program, 3 - 5.
M.A.P. 20th Annual Critics’ Residency Program, Exhibition Catalog Cover
McNatt, Glenn, The Baltimore Sun.
2005 Baltimore City Paper.
2004 Online Juried Exhibition,

Reviews and Press

David Sturm
Baltimore Sun

"His work is attracting attention in the artistic community. Craig Hankin, the director of the Homewood Arts Workshop at Johns Hopkins University, attended the show's opening in January.
"Zach's paintings pack a double wallop for me. They're highly cinematic, brimming with narrative possibilities. What's going on here? Who is this woman? Why is she alone on that dark street?"
He also credits the painter's "technical brilliance," which he said appears at first glance to be almost photo-realistic.
"But when you come in for a closer look, they enchant you with subtle, painterly touches. I've taught painting for 30 years and I still can't figure out how he creates some of these effects. This is a young painter at the beginning of what promises to be a remarkable artistic journey," Hankin said.

The Color of Night
Baynard Woods of Urbanite

I first saw Zachary Thornton’s show Night Visions through the windows of a shadow-filled Grimaldis Gallery late one night. So it was especially appropriate that, a week later, he returned my call as I was walking up Charles Street alone in the dark.

The show, Thornton’s first major solo exhibition, consists of ten paintings, each of a woman surrounded by the colors of night. The pale skin of the women is both enveloped by, and stands out starkly from, the night, in the same way that we feel simultaneously concealed and revealed when we are sneaking around or walking in an unfamiliar area after dark.
That compositional element shows tremendous mastery. In Fog for instance, a pale young woman stands beneath a streetlight, which casts in its glow and shadows as it strikes the fog surrounding her. Immediately behind her, we see the hood and headlight of a car, while an ominous white van lurks in the background. Her loose gray blouse and scarf create precisely the right relationship between figure and background with the rich grays of Jasper Johns and Gerhard Richter. Though Thornton paints in the realist (if not photorealist) tradition, this painting would be beautifully composed if the figures were simply abstract splotches of color on canvas.

But they are not abstract. The expressions of the models, the way they inhabit the night, is arresting. At first Thornton took the models to location and photographed them there and worked from the pictures. As the series—and he views Night Visions as a series—progressed, he began to work in a more controlled manner, as if he were making a film. He started bringing the models to his studio where he could have absolute control over the lighting for his photographs, which he digitally combined with images of empty nightscapes. “Technology is really important to the project,” he says. But while some of the paintings have a highly photographic quality, they are first and foremost painterly. The women inYellow DressTail Lights, and Glow are all more substantial than photographs; the paint is not obviously thick and textured but it feels very fleshy.

The sumptuous Pool 3 seems to play with David Hockney’s pictures of Los Angeles swimming pools. Thornton captures the perfect Hockney pool-glow, but he takes it up a notch: The pool is illuminated from within casting a light more interesting than Hockney’s midday as it dashes across a contemplative woman in sports clothes sitting on the end of the diving board, dangling a toe in the water.

At first, Thornton gave all his models this nocturnal stillness. Then, influenced by the films of David Lynch, he began to invest the figures with movement and drama. “I didn’t ever see any of his stuff until after I started the series. But I was struck by the visual sense of it,” he says. The influence is obvious—many of the paintings hint at the dark horror behind suburban facades—but it is not domineering (for the most part).

Thornton’s best paintings only hint at a metaphorical darkness. Occasionally, however, he pushes the drama to a point where it is no longer implied, but suddenly obvious. You can see the contrast between Thornton’s two means of handling the drama of darkness most clearly in the two large paintings called Egress (Dawn) andEgress (Dusk). The dawn version of the painting is both gorgeous and infinitely intriguing. A woman with short brown hair and a loose plaid dress seems to pause at the edge of a drive in front of a house, half-turned, arm outstretched exquisitely, her eyes excited, alive, longing, and a bit mischievous. It’s fascinating—the kind of picture you could look at every day and never be exhausted of.

As I finished talking with Thornton, I walked back to look in through the windows at the paintings one more time, and, in that light, the figures in Night Visions echoed Rilke’s response to a bust of Apollo: You must change your night!

Ann Maree Clark
July 2010 . suburban hyper-voyeur noir master

" Zachary Thornton works in an old-fashioned style of art making - a style that ‘rewards on many levels’. It’s the sort of work a person might actually ruminate on; consider both on its own terms as well as in its historical context. One might really enjoy it, even, draw pleasure from the act of looking at it, without having to glean most of that enjoyment from one’s own simultaneously smug and self-deprecating sense of humour or other demonstrations of general mental dexterity, as has been the case with much of the contemporary Art.

Marco Di Capua
October 2008 . Women’s Life FIRST GALLERY Via Roma 14 Margutta 

            “At First Gallery in Rome, in a complicated match between female figures, are the paintings of American, Zachary Thornton (Baltimore, 1979) and sculptures of Italian Paolo Schmidlin (Milan, 1964), a project curated by Marco Di Capua . In both cases, these defiant muse, distant, mysterious: young women on the nights of a suburban landscape, mysterious but also eccentric, irrepressible in their profusion of detail and emotional depth. These are the signals that triggers the inner life (sensual, sad, unsatisfied, happy, uninhibited, yearning, enigmatic) of humanity.”  

Baltimore Interview

January 2007 .

“And in looking at his work we feel this investment in character, the drawing out of emotion and thought in the women's bodies and faces. Yet,  though not as striking or immediately apparent to the eye is the time he has taken with the hazy forms of buildings and trees, the half-fading, half-emerging atmosphere at the wings of the canvas, that just-dark mystery Zach says he remembers so vividly from childhood.”

Baltimore Sun
January 2006 . Glenn McNatt
"Zachary Thornton's strikingly realistic paintings are inspired by memories of people from his past, who recall the uneasy urban denizens of Edward Hopper's paintings. His images have a startlingly lifelike quality that manages not only to convey the appearance of his subjects but also to suggest something of their psychological makeup."

Baltimore Sun
January 2005 . Glenn McNatt

"One of the show's standouts, painter Zachary Thornton, has produced a series of highly accomplished oil-on-canvas portraits that effectively convey something of their subjects' character as well as appearance. The sleek surfaces certainly demonstrate the artist's mastery of light, color and form, but what really makes them work is their startlingly life-like quality: You almost expect to see these people breathe."

Baltimore City Paper
November 2004 . Ned Oldham

"Nearly every piece in the opening show at Current, the choice new downtown gallery, holds its weight in a well-installed and inviting exhibit. Tall street-front windows and high ceilings give the space big-city curb appeal, and the collective of 15 artists who made a successful pitch to the Downtown Partnership for a six-month—and ultimately, one hopes, longer—stint in the city-owned location seem, for the most part, to have a strong sense of how best to exploit the space."

Dominating a rear side wall, Zachary Thornton’s life-sized oil-on-canvas portrait, “Rosie and Claire,” recalls the portraits of John Singer Sargent (and likewise, the American living-room version of family portraits in oil) in its composition, and Francisco Goya in its unflattering realism. In conveying a sense of unqualified humanity, “Rosie and Claire” succeeds.

Baltimore City Paper
January 2003 . Gadi Dechter
"Zachary Thornton's smaller studies of suburban subjects--simple houses, trees, parks--are lovingly detailed studies of the poignant geometry of a sagging roof or the shimmering cloud of color crowning an autumn tree. Even more affecting are the two larger portraits that accompany the landscapes. In his "self portrait", Thornton, a recent Maryland Institute College of Art graduate and high school art teacher, demonstrates a real sensitivity for self-portraiture, beautifully capturing the fragility of the human subject caught between the pose of examiner and examined."


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