Half an hour into a conversation with Robert Tharsing, Ann Tower and their daughter, Lina Tharsing — a chat that has covered art journalism, trends, techniques, education and development — a visitor has to ask, "Is this what it's like around your dinner table?"
"Oh, definitely," Lina says.
Ann chimes in, "We talk about all kinds of things. But we do spend a lot of time talking about art and things that we're interested in and stuff that we've seen. We talk about books a lot. We talk a lot."
Lina says, "It is a blessing to have parents that are interested in the same things that you're interested in and you can have those kinds of discussions. Most of my peers don't have that luxury."
The luxury Lina, 29, has enjoyed is growing up with parents who are two of Lexington's leading artists. Robert is a longtime and now-retired University of Kentucky art professor and multifaceted, internationally acclaimed artist. Ann has worked as an art journalist in the past for the Herald-Leader and now owns Ann Tower Gallery, which represents more than 30 artists; she is also a successful painter in her own right.
Their daughter is following in their footsteps and establishing her own career. She got a boost this spring when the Southern culture magazine the Oxford American placed her at No. 5 on its list of the 100 "New Superstars of Southern Art."
The list also included fellow Tower client Lennon Michalski at No. 89 and Institute 193 founder Phillip March Jones at No. 68.
"I was pleased to even make it into the magazine and have my work published," Lina says. To be ranked No. 5 was "a huge, huge surprise. I certainly didn't expect that at all."
Starting Friday, area art lovers will have a chance to see work by the whole Tower-Tharsing family with the opening of Revolving Evolving 11, the gallery's annual show of recent works by all of the artists it represents.
Lina was interested in art from childhood, though her parents never tried to teach her art growing up.
"My fondest memories are going to my father's studio in the Reynolds Building, and he would be working, painting, and he would set me in the corner and say, 'Here are the supplies you have to choose from — here are some watercolors, here are some oil pastels, and we'll be here two hours,' Lina recalls. "So I would either sit and make something or I would go wander into the ceramics room and stick my hand in some clay.
"My parents were always interested in me finding my own vision and never corrected me or told me the right way to do something. There was never any structure. It was: Make something if you want to make something."
Robert says, "We would talk about things. We'd talk about the things I made, talk about the things she made. But it was more descriptive than instructive to demonstrate, 'This is what I'm doing. What are you doing?'"
That's not to say Lina has not learned a lot from Mom and Dad. The three of them frequently work at the same time in the same or adjoining studios, and over the years, Lina says, she has picked up traits from her parents such as brushwork and ways to apply paint to surfaces.
The education has gone both ways. Robert points out a color layering technique he picked up from his daughter and applied to a series of sunset paintings he recently made.
That said, the three say they approach painting differently. Ann prefers painting still-lifes of actual objects in natural light. Robert likes definite objects, too, but will work with different ideas that come up during the painting process. Lina comes in with a definite concept, and the painting serves to illustrate that idea. But she says she is trying to learn to be more flexible with her ideas as she works.
In addition to work, Lina says, she has learned from working with her mom in the gallery.
"You and I are in the business of exhibiting work," Lina says to Ann, "so we know how important it is for a painting to communicate."
Lina also says she has benefitted from getting feedback from her parents, that being together provides a built-in opportunity to have discussions about what they are doing, what they are getting at and why they are approaching their work the way they are.
There are some running jokes, like when Lina was using minimal color in college, while Robert usually works in vivid colors.
"He'd say, 'You need a little more color,' and I'd say, 'I think you need less,'" Lina recalls, laughing.
That also prepared Lina for when she went to UK herself, and discussed her sometimes unorthodox approaches to work like mixed media and photography with fellow students.
"Having two parents who were intellectuals and painters definitely prepared me to have those discussions," Lina says. "I was not afraid to have those conversations. I was prepared to talk about what my ideas were and why I was doing what I was doing. I was very clear about it."
It was just like chatting around the dinner table.