Monday, April 4, 2011

Natural Extremes by Paul Thorpe

Contour Figure 1 by Paul Thorpe
Charcoal on newsprint, 30 x 18

What drives an artist to make art? It's a question that frequently comes up but varies wildly from person to person. Some would argue that art is something that lives inside them and that they have no choice but to let it out. I've heard others say that they'd rather be dead than stop making art. My motivations aren't that dramatic but I do view art-making as a type of calling. And even though I've only been identifying as an artist for the past 5 years, I can't imagine ever doing anything else.

But art isn't meant to be forever for e
veryone. My mother spent a decade of her life making beautiful oil paintings of Northwest scenes and then one day over 15 years ago, she just put her brushes away. For her, making art was a temporary pursuit and when she was done, she was done and that was it.

Green Cup by Paul Thorpe
Oil on board, 5 x 6, Collection of Alfred Harris

Recently on a sunny day in the condo of Gary Hill, I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Thorpe. During our conversation, art came up and he mentioned that he was going to be showing some work soon. We talked a bit and later he forwarded me the show information which mentioned all this work was done in the '80s. I was curious why someone in construction was showing a body of art which was nearly 25 years old? Like most folks, it turns out Paul has an interesting story.

Influenced by his mother (who owned a gallery) and art camp teachers like esteemed Seattle artist MaryAnn Peters, Paul went to RISD upon graduation. “...during college the work was often just flowing. It’s almost like it wasn’t me doing it. The only limitation I had was how many hours there were in the day.” After a 2 year stint where he flourished, he transferred to Cooper Union. It was around this time, at age 21, when things unraveled and he dropped out, came home and realized that there were other professions where he could use his talents. Since then Paul has focused his creative energy into his woodworking, along with writing and performing.

But like many of us artists, Paul held on to the work. A couple of years ago, a friend told him a story about an artist's estate being put to the curb. “It prompted me to ask what was going to eventually become of all my art that I’ve stored all these years? I decided to finally give up the ambivalence I had toward it, of not having gone forward with it, and send it out into the world.”

He pulled the work back out and showed it to people from time to time. The response was enthusiastic (he did go to Cooper Union, after all)! It's the same thing I wondered about with my mother—how can someone so talented quit making art? Paul has answered that question before. “How could I explain that the person who made these no longer existed?”

Marine by Paul Thorpe
Oil on canvas, 21 x 19

But what did exist was the human need to say, “I was here. I contributed.” And as a poetic response to the current state of art (everything is so immediate now!), Paul wanted to reexamine and celebrate these works, made by another version of himself long ago—a time capsule to bridge adolescent with adult.

I asked Paul if there is any advice he'd offer his 18 year old self. “I would maybe just say that there is a special joy in putting paint on canvas or line on paper that’s not quite like anything else, to enjoy it as much as you can.”


Tuesday, April 5 from 6-9 p.m
The Eidelauer Picture Club*
2203 1 Ave South
Suite #110 (rear entrance), Seattle
Brief artist talk at 7:30pm

*Location: The gallery is wonderfully located, with lots of parking, but a little hard to find. It’s on 1st Avenue S, but you have to go to the back of the building – which is Utah Ave S. The easiest way to get there is go to the Krispy Kreme on 1st Ave, go west on Holgate 1 block, turn left on Utah and go south 1 1/2 blocks until you’re at the back of the white building (Outdoor Research is located on the front of the building). The entrance to the gallery is at the small flight of wood steps. This location is also about 1 ½ blocks north of Starbuck’s headquarters (but not approachable from that direction). I’m suggesting folks bring a snack or something to drink, or just come and hang out.

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