At some point or another, everyone gets frustrated with their job. It doesn't matter if you drink beer and jump on a trampoline for a living— eventually you'll get tired of the boozing and bouncing. That's why I wasn't surprised when local artist Storm Tharp told me that he used his TBA:10 residency to create artwork that represents his struggle to remain positive in the face of workplace frustrations.
But as an artist who's following his passion, why the frustration? Tharp spends a lot of time in his studio— on average, eight hours a day, five days a week. When deadlines get close, the days get longer, as do the nights, and weekends away from the studio are no more. Not only does the time commitment wear on Tharp, but so do the ideas that one day seem brilliant, and the next, fruitless. It can take some serious perseverance to push through, day after day, idea after idea, until an exhibit takes shape. In short, it's a job like any other.
In overcoming the pressures of rigorous studio practice, Tharp created High House, an installation combining sculpture, mural work, painting, and minimalist arrangements of objects such as photographs, sticky notes, and furniture. "The show is very simple," explains Tharp— it's all about exploring what keeps him sane through the long days and weeks he spends in the studio; it's about identifying what makes him happy and representing those things.
But you wouldn't know the show's that simple by looking at it. In the center of the room is a platform with a staircase on it. Tharp says the staircase represents accession, not so much getting to the top, but "being in the chrysalis." A gag-store "spoon with ice cream puddle" is faux-melted onto one of the stairs, presumably as a reminder to stay playful during the journey. On the platform around the staircase are photographs, plants, and other bits of ephemera.
Drawn in colored pencil on a nearby wall, several actresses are depicted playing some of Tharp's favorite roles: Goldie Hawn as Jill from Shampoo; Diane Keaton as Annie Hall from Annie Hall; Teri Garr as Sandy Lester from Tootsie; Shelly Duvall as Wendy Torrance from The Shining; Meryl Streep and Cher from Silkwood; plus several others. Tharp says they not only represent his own joy in their performances, but "becoming what you want to be." "I take such pleasure in watching acting," he explains, "I think it's because the best performances have a transformative quality."
On the wall perpendicular to Tharp's mural is a series of panels colored in varying shades of red, orange, yellow, blue, green, lavender, and black. Like "Vreeland," a piece from his most recent show at PDX Contemporary (read about that here), the differences in like-colored panels are extremely subtle, only exposed in their relationship with one another. According to the artist, each color has its own identity, one stemming from the associations we bring to it. "Entire lives are locked up in each square," says Tharp, "these incredibly rich narratives in each one." "That relates to the actresses," he explains.
Adjacent to this grid of colored panels is a row of plants along a windowsill. Tharp asks, "Is there a difference between the plants and the grid of color?" "I don't really think so," he answers. "The plants don't thrive if I don't take care of them, the same way I have to take care of the grid." Moreover, these objects "aren't that different from coming upon a beautiful light in your room," says Tharp— they make him happy, providing the strength to work through his daily frustrations.
So the objects in High House aren't necessarily collected as art, but as an aid to their maker. But what's more than Tharp's relationship with High House, is High House's relationship with the working class: we've all gotten fed up with repetitive, workplace tasks, and so the show presents themes we can all relate to. Though even with its widely relatable themes, I don't believe that anyone will walk into High House and extract Tharp's intended meaning right off the bat. That said, if you take the leap of faith and read the show the way Tharp intends, you might learn a bit about how to stay positive through the more grueling moments encountered during the daily grind— even if that just means buying a few plants to put around the office.
[Storm Tharp's High House is on view at Washington High School (531 SE 14th) through October 17. Gallery hours, as quoted from PICA's website: "Sept. 23 - Oct 17 . Thurs - Fri . 12 - 6:30 pm; Sat - Sun . 12 - 4 pm"]
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