The Atmosphere of Painted Spaces: Sarah Awad and Storm Tharp

Playful demystification inhabits the center of Los Angeles artist Sarah Awad’s Instruments of Culture at Seattle’s James Harris Gallery, a series of large, densely painted canvases depicting the statuary and halls of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Layered with oil to the point that marble sculptures become ghostlike and courtyards become abstracted spaces of color blocks and sketched lines, this series of work accentuates the absurdities of the object display that represents standard practice in museums. The lifeless, gray masses dominating Fallenheads highlights the way severed heads of Roman statuary line the walls of myriad European galleries, while simultaneously referencing the grotesque implications typically associated with classical paintings of severed limbs. – Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Sarah Awad | Fallenheads, 2011, oil on canvas, 24″ x 30.” Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

The heavy brushstrokes and rainbow array of pastel colors consistent across the works in Instruments of Culture expose the meaning of art objects in the museum context as being as abstracted, following the artist’s own approach to the subject. The ironically titled Power of Aphrodesia reveals the absence of sexuality among an erotic sculpture placed in a grand hall of unrelated imagery, objectified into a work of art for art’s sake and effectively losing its emotional resonance. Although this theme of institutional spaces and objects becomes somewhat redundant in a gallery of paintings dedicated entirely to the subject, Award’s balance of light commentary and subtle questioning meditates effectively on the impact of space on artistic objects through a fresh and inquisitive lens.

Sarah Awad | Courtyard, 2011, oil on canvas, 54″ x 72.″ Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

Sarah Awad | Power of Aphrodesia, 2011, oil on canvas, 60” x 67.” Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

In contrast to Awad’s cultural spaces, Portland-based artist Storm Tharp’s quiet show in the back of James Harris controls the space of the viewer’s experience. A simple set of color field canvases converse between opposing walls, bookending a series of eight black and white prints; although the works on paper offer their own narrative, their position between the color fields invites the most intrigue.

Storm Tharp | Vreeland, 2010, gouache and acrylic ink on stretched paper, 18″ x 30″ x 1.25.″ Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

Storm Tharp | Nosebleed, 2011, ink and fabric dye on stretched paper, 2 panels, 84" x 33 3/4." Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

Short, stout and coated in a euphoric haze of pink, lavender and cream, the painting Vreeland presents a pinnacle of abstracted optimism; the Dutch city of the same name is best known for its constant state of celebration, each month of the year marked with a festival. Across the room, Nosebleed poses a distant opposition: a tall, narrow set of canvases dyed red and orange, covered by a deafening layer of black, their otherwise minimal form now indefinitely linked to the World Trade Center towers. Suspended between the space created by Vreeland and Nosebleed, Tharp’s eight prints of male forms titled Health absorb the color fields’ disjointed contrasts through an altogether different medium. When experienced together, the works on paper and canvases both evoke an atmosphere of deeply personal narrative that the outside viewer can strongly sense but never fully understand.

Sarah Awad | Courtesy of James Harris Gallery

Storm Tharp | Courtesy of James Harris Gallery

Sarah Awad's Instruments of Culture and Storm Tharp's Prints and Works on Paper will be on exhibit at the James Harris Gallery until October 8th. For more information, please contact the gallery.

Erin Langner is a writer based in Seattle and is Adult Public Programs Coordinator at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).


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