John Thornton: Master of the Erotic Surreal

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“Magnifico … Fantastico” … That’s how Salvador Dali described John Thornton’s work. From the master of surrealism, that’s one hell of a recommendation.

Dali, along with Luis Brunel, Rene Magritte, Giorgo de Chirco – and photographs of stocking and suspender-clad women in Spick & Span magazine – are among the chief influences on Sydney-born Thornton’s work.

His photos have been exhibited around the world for more than four decades, and he can boast eight shows in London alone. As an advertising photographer, Thornton has scooped more than 100 awards including the New York Art Directors’ Club gold award, and his work is now on display in museums and with private collectors. He’s also published the book Pipe Dreams, featuring some of his early images.

A Life Less Ordinary

Thornton’s creative career started at Bruce Minnett’s Studio in Sydney, but unwilling to be conscripted into the Vietnam War, he upped and left Australia for South Africa at the age of 20. He survived by taking photos and writing articles about the surf scene at Cape St Francis before moving to Cape Town to work in fashion and advertising photography.

It was here that he found his taste for the controversial. A passionate opponent of South Africa’s apartheid regime, he produced his first photographic comment on the political situation – a picture featuring his naked white housemate and his black girlfriend.

Warned that his images could get him locked up, Thornton skipped off to London straight from an assignment in Portugal and never went back. Shooting advertising images in the English capital, Thornton began to indulge his adoration of the surreal and started to create his trademark erotic surrealistic images.

Married to the Muse

Many of Thornton’s stunning pictures feature his now ex-wife Alex. In Holding My Heart, he pictures Alex in a red-toned bodysuit through a hole in an internal wall that has been smashed with a sledgehammer. The woman is holding a red rope attached to a red heart. Influenced by Magritte’s views through structure and showing Thornton’s self-confessed infatuation with Alex, it’s a unique, highly-charged piece.


Dalis Lips also features Alex and pays homage to Dali. It shows a pink-clad Alex lying on the floor beside the pink Mae West Lips Dali sofa, one foot on the sofa, a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Beside her, the ripped up pieces of a picture litter the floor beside an empty frame. As Thornton says: “If you can make people stop and wonder what is going on, the image gains another dimension.”

Limited Edition John Thornton Prints

ONGallery-302Thornton is undoubtedly one of the artists ONGallery is most honoured to be working with and we recently welcomed the man himself to our London exhibition in Chelsea (October 2015).

ONGallery has signed an exclusive deal with Thornton to sell a collection of his limited edition prints. His sexy and surreal work is a real statement piece to appreciate with the eye and ponder with the brain.

You can view and purchase John Thornton images directly through the site here.

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