Storm Tharp

New York

at Nicole Klagsbrun


This was Storm Tharp’s first one-man show in New York. Tharp, whose work was included in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, is based in Portland, Ore., and has been showing almost exclusively on his home turf and in Switzerland over the last 15 years. During this time, he has been preoccupied with the nature of identity, as well as its representation and perception. He has worked in various mediums textiles, beading, video, sculpture, painting and drawing-taking inspiration from sources as varied as Pop Art, Color Field painting and Japonisme as well as literature and cinema.

In this show, Tharp lyrically combined accidental and manipulated interactions of ink, water and dry pigments to produce an idiosyncratic body of portraiture that alludes to the elusiveness of identity. Unlike his earlier flamboyant and, at times, grotesque portraits, which encompassed a wide range of subjects (from celebrities and court jesters to himself), the exquisitely executed suite of 14 large-scale busts and half-figures (all 2010) at Klagsbrun riff exclusively on a single young woman-the performance artist Ashby Lee Collinson, whose name was also the show’s title. The figures are often heavily outlined against stark white backgrounds and rendered in passages of ink, gouache and colored pencil on paper. Shadowy seepages and manipulated drags of ink or thick sweeps or blushes of color alternately highlight and obscure the facial features. Through different poses and stances, expressions and moods, clothing and coiffures, the portraits offer widely vari- ant images of the same person.

In the diptych Bun (58 by 853⁄4 inches), Collinson is depicted twice in three-quarter views with self-consciously averted eyes. At left, her hands are clasped; at right, she swirls her pale rose-tinged hair into a bun. Dark, blurry washes that encroach on her physiognomy contrast with the mesmerizing, deliberate maze of yellow-orange and fuchsia pinstripes on her blouse.

In contrast to this delicate, demure personage, the subject in Sweatshirt–also drawn twice-looks harsh and confrontational. In both views, Collinson is portrayed frontally, with stocky arms, hands clasped behind her head, elbows pointing out, sparingly described through the thick outlines of a shirt. In one, she stares intently at the viewer with pursed lips, her face and hair rendered in pale and dark gray washes. In the other, her face is unrecognizable, distorted by dark strokes and slashes of ink that run down her face, covering her ears and one of her eyes, alongside violet-pink bruisings of gouache. Her feminine traits have been usurped by large tentacles of black ink that curl into her hair and by dense shading around her mouth that bizarrely suggests a five-o’clock shadow. Here and throughout this group of portraits, Tharp’s masterful orches- trations of light and shadow, and his complex interplays of fluid gesture and controlled abstraction, imaginatively underscore the mutability of selfhood.

Photo: Storm Tharp: Speaker 77, 2010, ink, gouache and colored pencil on paper, 58 by 853⁄4 inches;
at Nicole Klagsbrun.