Bean Gilsdorf: You just finished the work that’s going into the 2010 Whitney Biennial. How many pieces?
Storm Tharp: Five pieces, all large-scale portraits.
BG: And you’re in the collection of the Whitney.
ST: That’s true, but they [2010 Whitney Biennial curators Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari] weren’t aware of that. I assumed they knew. I brought it to their attention and we thought it was really funny.
BG: And did you meet with Larry back then? What did you show him?
ST: It’s funny, I was really embarrassed as soon as he walked out the door. I was just scratching the surface about Japanese theater, where the details in the masks denote the kind of character being played. This is also mirrored in Chinese opera: messy facial makeup helps the audience understand that the character is unstable. And I brought up Noh, and Larry was immediately like, “Oh, you’re interested in the theater”, and I realized that I had no idea what I was talking about. The work was totally juvenile and half-baked. But it led to where I am now.
BG: Let’s go back to what you said about noise. There’s a lot of visual noise in your work, is that just an artifact of your process? In this body of work that you’ve done there’s often something like a clearly defined eye, but there will be a lot of bleeding of ink around it and you have to work a little more to make out the nose. How much of that do you feel you are in control of?
ST: The noise part, the parts that are harder to control, the more abstract places, I think those are really where the best parts are. I like details, but I prefer to not have to rely on realism. So when the work can speak for itself and come on its own terms because of the materials, ink and water bleeding, I think that’s the best part. All of the other things, the clothing, the hair, the setting, that’s all just in aid of the more naturally found noises. If it’s really messy, then the things I start adding on around it will be less and less, to balance out the chaos. If it’s not very chaotic, it will probably get a lot of drama.
BG: So you’re working on a push-pull effect in each one?
ST: I think so.
BG: For example, in The Ex-King there’s a lot of bleeding in his face, but his pinstriped shirt is tight and precise.
ST: That’s a really good example, because I look at that face as a reminder of being loose, because the more I do them the more I am learning how the accidents will go and I start to control the chaos, even more than I would like to. That shirt: I’m really proud of it and I love it, I don’t think that face works without that shirt, but I don’t want make that shirt ever again. I’m really happy to have done it, but I don’t need to return.
BG: Do you get bored?
ST: I have found that I don’t like doing the same thing twice. And it’s not because I don’t completely admire artists who do, but I don’t let myself do it.
BG: What else do you think is behind this work, and where might you move forward with it? Where are your interests right now?
ST: I’m thinking about how weird realism is and how dangerous it is to get stuck in it, for me. And I think that’s why I like the abstract parts of the paintings. I’m hoping to move further out of realism. The portraits are dangerous for me, because the more I do them the more demanding of realism I’ve become. The more I’m like, “Let’s try this. Have you ever painted fur? Let’s try fur.” [Though] I think that being stuck in abstraction is as strangely limiting. Who wants to be stuck?
Read the full interview on Daily Serving, and stay tuned for future contributions from the DS crew in this space.