TAKOMA PARK, Md. – Evans Thorne knew at a young age he loved art. He found an interest in the subject at about age 10 while living in Trinidad. Although life circumstances would draw him away from his work from time to time, he repeatedly made his way back to his passion, and continues his work to this day, at age 70. He recently shared some of his paintings — vibrant portraits of the people and culture of the Caribbean — at the Women of the World exhibition at the Takoma Park Community Center.
The exhibition portrayed “triumphs and struggles around the world,” according to art coordinator Brendan Smith. Main themes examined the effects of war on women and children and the effects of immigration and migration.
But Thorne’s featured art contrasted with that of the other work. It was more joyful.
Smith said he was drawn to Thorne’s work for the art show because of this contrast.
“He had some really joyful, colorful work from the Caribbean, which was a nice counterpoint to some of the other art in the show,” Smith said. “I thought he captured the vibrancy of … where he grew up … both the culture and the traditions, but also just the lush, tropical landscape.”
Thorne said his passion for art began at a young age.
“I started drawing and painting. … I read, went to the library … and read everything there I could find about art,” Thorne said.
By the time he was graduating from high school, he said the prime minister came through his town, and he was selected to give him one of his paintings in 1961.
After graduating from high school, Thorne worked in the government in Trinidad, so he could save up money to travel to study art in the United States, England or Canada, he said.
Thorne did not specifically choose to come to D.C., but the man who helped him get his visa had many connections in the area, so Thorne bought his ticket and came to study art — first, at Northern Virginia Community College, and then at Howard University.
At school, Thorne found a mentor and friend in Mike Platt, a teacher at the community college who was the same age as Thorne.
“He took me around. [He] took me to the different places where I could meet black artists in the area,” Thorne said.
At Howard, his professors began to influence his style of painting.
The AfriCOBRA arts movement from the ‘60s and the ‘70s also influenced his work, he said. “So a lot of the instructors were from that period and they had very bright colors. … From that influence, my colors in my paintings have changed.”
On Thorne’s website, he describes his style of art.
“My art is about the conditions of people in everyday life, the pain, suffering, joy, pleasures, and disappointments of life,” Thorne wrote. “I am also interested in nature with its unique shapes, colors, contrast, harmony, and chaos, the peace” and unpredictable nature of it.
Roslyn Cambridge, an art colleague of Thorne’s, elaborated on his style.
“Most of his paintings include figures … group figures. His colors are intense, echoing the culture and diaspora of the Caribbean people,” Cambridge said.
Thorne has focused his recent work on paintings of the Caribbean, many of which were displayed at the show in Takoma Park.
“Everyone has something that they stick to, so I stick to vegetation … and the culture,” Thorne said.
But Thorne said he does not stay on one theme forever, so the subject of the Caribbean may not last much longer as his inspiration.
“I’m sure I’m going to go in another direction,” he said.
Thorne paints about what is going on in his mind at the time. When asked what inspired each painting, he said, “It’s something I was thinking about anyhow.”
In addition to painting Caribbean subject matter, Thorne focuses on the human condition, which is often inspired by his life circumstances.
For nearly 20 years, his wife was sick, he said. During this time, his work concentrated on her sickness.
“For 16 years, she had seizures, so I had a painting about seizures. And I have paintings about sickness … and stuff like that at home,” he said.
When asked about what challenges he faces when creating his art, Thorne said, “I don’t really think of challenges.”
He said he usually works on three pieces at a time. When he struggles with one, he will take a break from it and work on another piece for about a week until he is ready to continue the other again.
Thorne has only left one piece of artwork unfinished, he said.
“I am 16 years no cancer, so I was working on this piece about the pain. It was the most painful thing,” Thorne said.
“As soon as the doctor told me it was gone, I couldn’t work on that painting anymore.”
If you missed Thorne’s exhibit at the Takoma Park Community Center, here’s a video of some of his featured work: https://vimeo.com/335728715. To learn more about Thorne and to view more of his work, check out his website: https://ethorneart.com/.