Visual Arts

Painter turns natural elements into eye candy

The eye-catching quality of painter Robert Tharsing's work is important.

The saturated colors pop in the light of Ann Tower Gallery, owned by his wife, and carry the viewer through the vivid natural world that Tharsing has created. The multihued leaves by themselves make the exhibit, called The Domain of Nature, attractive.

"The things going on in painting are form and color," Tharsing said. "You can't have a painting without form and color."

The colors and forms are compelling, but art enthusiasts will find other things to appreciate about the series of paintings. The progression of the work is clearly visible, from the artist's layering techniques to the evolution of both subject matter and style.

"I had used leaves before, so it wasn't a new thing to do," Tharsing said. Unlike his previous work, though, these leaves aren't real, but "just an illusion."

The leaves that Tharsing, 66, used were all found around his home in north Lexington, and the variety of shapes and colors inspired him to transition away from his works featuring rocks from an island in Nova Scotia. The rocks and the leaves are indicative of Tharsing's interest in geology.

"The leaves come from the rocks in a metaphorical way," Tharsing said. This is how the work Kentucky Leaves, Nova Scotia Rocks came to bridge the two subjects, placing the rocks in a band at the bottom of a lush scene.

"You couldn't put them at the top, it would be too heavy," he said. The rocks are all as close to the actual size and color as possible, making the jumbled collection even more interesting, he said.

The small object studies of rocks and other items, such as The Last Beach Pea, are particularly impressive for not only the way the objects are painted, but like most still-lifes, for the way the white background is handled.

"I want it to look like it's being examined," Tharsing said.

The transition to the larger leaf paintings can be seen in the smaller, gridded works that carry the viewer through the gallery to the virtual forest in the main room.

In these earlier paintings, the clearly marked grids constrict the painted leaves. Grids were important to his work in the 1960s and '70s, Tharsing said, but with these, "the grid just fell apart." That led to the large-scale works overflowing with falling leaves that offer peeks into the landscape beyond.

The layers are achieved through a combination of acrylic and oil paints, which is responsible for the iridescence and perceived movement of the paintings. This is particularly evident in the piece called Floral Pathway.

"When you move by the painting, it changes," Tharsing said. That's something most two-dimensional works cannot achieve.

The layering process is a constant for Tharsing, who was influenced by Color Field painters including Morris Lewis.

"It looked like you could walk right through the painting," he said of first seeing the huge washes of color achieved through the process of staining.

"Of course, I had to rush right home and try it," Tharsing said.

The paintings all relate to one another, but they were not originally intended to be a part of a series. This allows not only for the demonstrated development of technique, but also for stylistic differences.

Fish Pond embodies one of those styles, flattening the space into a design reminiscent of the Japanese paper that inspired him. The bright and iridescent colors reign, but the tracery outlining the scene adds a decorative aspect.

"I want to make an interesting image that other people want to look at and I want to look at," he said.