Jeff Horton is an Arkansas-based artist and architect who paints visions of an abstract Utopia. The thin black lines that appear in his recent paintings—verticals, horizontals and diagonals—construct a striking world without being too literal about it. Horton calls his style Architectural Abstraction and if a viewer wishes he or she can identify what just might be girders, cables, beams, towers and wires. There are also indications of space and swaths of painterly color. Horton’s canvases represent a kind of dialogue between two ways of thinking, walking the line between structural possibility and impossibility. Their formal building blocks—lines, color and space—have been freed from the demands of practicality.
It’s a liberating approach to painting and the search for freedom is something Horton sees as one of his aesthetic enticements. “Architecture is creative but in a very restrictive way,” he comments. “There are clients to answer and regulations and restrictions to observe. So I use my art as a freeing, purely creative outlet that allows me to explore.” One of Horton’s explorations is the notion of describing 3-dimensional spaces within the bounds of the canvas: “The idea that the viewer could be submersed inside the painting and viewing it from that perspective excites me.” Balancing all of this—illusion, invention and nature—is a challenge that Horton relishes. Abstraction, he feels, is much harder than it appears. Add to that, some of the artists he admires most, including Cy Twombly, Anselm Kiefer and Gerhard Richter are known for their abstractions.
Horton grew up in Weston, Missouri, a small farming community outside Kansas City and the Arkansas landscapes that now surround and influence him have a similar rural flavor. Both locations also have four distinctive seasons and their accompanying changes in color: that rural palette still blooms inside many of Horton’s inventions. The years Horton spent in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying art and beginning his career as an architect have also left a mark, as his mature paintings have a stylistic connection to those of Richard Diebeknorn and other Bay Area artists. Horton’s surroundings tend to seep into his paintings as a starting point and then coalesce towards abstraction.
His working methods—Horton suspends layers and lines using oil paint in a wax medium—allow a certain flexibility and transparency. One of Horton’s working methods is to take advantage of that flexibility and let the imagery go wax and wane, appearing, disappearing and then morphing into something new. Horton’s best work has boldness and tension along with fresh and unexpected color harmonies. His willingness to let drips break through the linearity of his forms adds a sense of spontaneity and also a reminder that the artist is after expression, not perfection.
For years, painting has been a sideline, but with the help of an airy studio located above his architecture office, Horton finds that his art is growing from an interest to a fascination. The scale of his works is also taking off: His 2017 canvas “Billboard #2,” which was recently on view at the Arkansas Art Center measures 72 x 88 inches. This kind of impressive scale gives viewers the chance to feel that they are in the work, taking part in the space. And that idea—of actually being there in Horton’s invented utopia—is a very enticing thought.