Robert Tharsing is one of Lexington's venerable artists, having studied at the University of California at Berkeley under celebrated artists such as David Hockney, serving for decades on the art faculty at the University of Kentucky, having works exhibited around the world and defining a distinct style combining realistic and abstract forms.
One achievement that had eluded Tharsing is a solo exhibition in New York City, until this summer.
In July, Workshop at Christian Berst Art Brut on Manhattan's Lower East Side opened Paradise Interrupted, an exhibit of recent works by Tharsing that address his battle with bone cancer. The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 6, was organized by Lexington native Phillip March Jones who directs the gallery and founded Lexington's Institute 193.
"In my humble opinion, it's been a long time coming and I am honored to be involved," Jones wrote of the exhibit in an email.
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Tharsing and his family were in New York for the exhibition opening, which he says, "was one of the best if not the best opening I have ever had. It was an interesting cross-section of about 300 people, and a lot of younger people, engaging with the art and taking the time to talk to me and ask me questions about the art."
The Paradise Interrupted series started in 2007 as geometric patterns that look like color bars or game boards.
"I was doing these paintings that were kind of static, and I was thinking is this the static that was hounding me with my health," Tharsing says. "It came from being more aware of death."
Eventually, he superimposed the patterns over realistic landscape images, advancing the idea of, "how we are enclosed and captured by our interior selves," Tharsing says.
Tharsing and his wife, gallery owner and artist Ann Tower, say that while people have appreciated the art in its own right, knowing the backstory has increased viewers' appreciation of the work.
"When they heard the narrative, it illuminated the art," says Tower, who also notes the work has made Tharsing more open to talking about his cancer.
Tharsing still works in his home studio — "He's been highly productive," says Tower, who represents him as a dealer— and attended the opening, but also needs rest as he undergoes continued treatment for cancer.
Suffice to say, it is an interesting time to get the New York show, but Tharsing and his family, including daughter and fellow artist Lina Tharsing, are deeply appreciative of the honor.
Being in New York, they say, gives an artist's work a chance to be seen by a larger audience and become part of a broader conversation in the art world. Tower notes that some noteworthy visitors have come to the exhibit, and several paintings have been sold.
"This sort of exposure just isn't likely to happen in Lexington," Tower says, adding that even in New York, the gallery needs to be on the radar of the art world to be seen. "That's where Phillip is brilliant. He reaches out to people, undaunted by their position in the art world, and makes connections between people and ideas."
Tharsing says, "It is wonderful to be in a legitimate New York gallery. It could turn out to be nothing, but it definitely would be if you aren't there."
Regardless of what this leads to, Tharsing is appreciative of the career he has had, and says that while he knows people who had major success early in their careers and then struggled, he has enjoyed sustained success in Lexington and beyond.
In addition to the New York honor, Tharsing was also commissioned by the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, which starts next week, to paint the signature artwork for this year's festival. The piece, A Moment in the Afternoon, will be auctioned at the end of the festival, which ends Aug. 30.
Tharsing says, "I am very appreciative of the platform UK gave me and the career I have had."