RIP Leslie Thornton

Sculptor Best Known for Spiky Welded Bronze Figure

Leslie Thornton, sculptor

Leslie Thornton was born May 26, 1925 in Skipton, North Yorkshire. He died February 9, 2016 at 90 years of age.

Our sympathies to his son and daughter.

In post-war Britain, Thornton’s work reflected the nervous Cold War era. Although he sculpted people, often in peaceful pursuits, his angular style made it appear they were constrained, even when they were not literally placed in cages.

The sculptor noted that the figures within cages reflected “the human predicament. Both playful and threatening”.

Thornton never ascribed to a formal group, but he was often placed in groups by others. One such association was the ‘Geometry of Fear’ group.

Leslie Thornton sculpture The Gladiators photo Guggenheim

His work was a blend of both abstract and figurative elements. His images were influenced as much by the space around and between them as the they were by their own form.

Thornton’s art background began at 14 when he was apprenticed to GH Mason, a firm that specialized in painting and decorating. He was required to attend Keighley Art School part-time in order to improve his skills. While there he won a scholarship to attend Leeds College of Art.

He was conscripted to work in the coal mines in 1943 to support the war effort.

At the end of the war he was able to take advantage of his scholarship at Leeds. He then went on to study sculpture at the Royal College of Art. It was during these years that Thornton became interested in contemporary English metal sculpture.

He began showing, including the “This is Tomorrow” exhibit at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956. His works were part of group shows throughout Europe and in the United States during the 1960s. He received many public commissions as a result, including 2 crucifixes for the St. Louis Priory in Missouri.
Leslie Thornton Crucifix St Louis Priory

Thornton preferred to weld his sculptures, creating one-offs rather than editions.

He continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy while he frequently also worked as a visiting lecturer in the UK.
The sculptor turned to painting and drawing during his retirement years in Yorkshire.

Thornton’s wife, the former Constance Billows, died in 2013.

Click to read the complete obituary as written in the Telegraph

Leslie Thornton’s sculpture, “The Gladiators”, photo courtesy of the Guggenheim, “Crucifix” photo courtesy St Louis Priory