Boombox by Hollis Brown Thornton
8"x10" ($24) | 11"x14" ($60) | 16"x20" ($240) | 24"x30" ($1200) | 30"x40" ($2400)
There’s something about a Boombox that brings to mind the best sorts of low-key summer pastimes. Namely, stoop-sitting, sidewalk-cruising, and expert-level park lounging. Any idle outdoor activity that is vastly improved by great weather and good music. Right about now, anyone born before the 90s will probably be picturing a key component of this scene: the Boombox, preferably on full blast. Which is why the timing seemed just right to release Hollis Brown Thornton’s artwork homage to that old school portable provider of airwaves...
Thornton has a penchant for pop cultural totems of the past, the sorts of things that might set you on a serious nostalgia spiral. VHS tapes and a disco ball both make an appearance in our collection of the South Carolinian’s work. When was the last time you saw a Boombox in the wild? Of course, they were nearly ubiquitous back in the day. After their inception in the 1970’s, boomboxes became increasingly larger and heavier, designed to get the most bang out of the bass. By the mid-eighties, they had ballooned with abandon—much like the hair and shoulder pads of the same era, just less regrettable in retrospect. Boomboxes had reached peak enormity, and peak prevalence.
It’s fitting, then, that the subject of today’s new edition takes up so much of the composition, as if in the interest of fidelity. The boombox is an easily recognizable form, for sure, but by ensuring it dominates the image, Thornton implies its popularity and its prominence, as well as its physical size. Not to mention that the memory of an object that was once so widespread is something huge swaths of people can call to mind. The idea of a boombox is a common communal memory, something that needs no context. And it’s not just the memory that’s communal—a boombox was played out loud in public, a far cry from the plugged-in headphones music-listening of modern day.
Boombox started as a digital drawing, but in an effort to emphasize the interesting nuances of an retro object like this, Thornton converted it to pixels (his Han Solo and Luke Skywalker editions are other examples of this approach). That transformation blurs the line between the physical world and the digital world—an apt metaphor for the digitization of music (MP3s anyone?) or, more broadly, the many ways in which our lives are becoming increasingly enmeshed with digital-everything. Even the square edges of the boombox are exaggerated, crisp as the corners of a pixel. You might say this edition is an attempt to grasp something solid, while the tide of technology does its ever-onward thing.
Thornton is adept at moving between multiple media and techniques, but for this particular piece he focused on a pigment transfer process. The result is a weathered look, peppered by inconsistencies. So while the boombox is immediately familiar, simplified, even codified, it’s also fractured, ephemeral and organic. You might say it’s as limited—and as unlimited—as a memory. You might also take one look at it on your walls and feel compelled to pull a Lloyd Dobler à la Say Anything. Up to you.
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