Using the portrait’s ability to be both documentary and able to convey personality with unvarnished realism and piercing psychological insight, Durham and Tharp explore complex social and cultural issues through their depictions of the human face. Though their compositional techniques vary, both artists set their characters in neutral environments, with unabashed and direct gazes as a means to construct immediate and poignant narratives.
Literally writing the stories of his character’s lives across the page, Durham’s portraits are entirely composed from hand-written text. Based on mug-shot images of childhood friends, classmates, and co-workers, soft words create the contours and wrinkles that make up each face. Just as their lives have been marked by crime, addiction, and violence, Durham marks their faces so that they carry the weight of their lives on their shoulders.
Bleeding gouache, ink, and colored pencil across paper, Tharp vividly pulls imaginary characters out of his inky portraits. Almost like controlled Rorschach ink blots, these delicate messes of color brim with the visual evidence of their own emotions. At once gorgeous and grotesque, when Tharp’s precision meets these swells of color, wan beauty and an earnest awkwardness is hauntingly conveyed.
Storm Tharp lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Running concurrently with this show, the artist’s ARM & ARM will be on display at PDX Contemporary Art, Portland, OR, and will include large-scale works on paper, video and installation. Other recent solo exhibitions include Arrangement in Flesh Color and Black, galerie bertrand & gruner, Geneva, Switzerland, and we appeal to heaven, PDX Contemporary Art, Portland, OR. Tharp has also exhibited at the Portland Art Museum and the Belleview Art Museum, Belleview, WA and has work in several public collections.
Ben Durham lives and works in Midway, KY. He received a B.F.A. in Painting at Washington University in St. Louis. Most recently he shown at Marc Selwyn Fine Art in Los Angeles, and has been featured online by White Columns and the Drawing Center.