Fayette County

Noted Lexington artist Robert Tharsing dies

A Robert Tharsing exhibit at Ann Tower Gallery in 2003 included colorful artwork from driftwood and ice storm refuse.
A Robert Tharsing exhibit at Ann Tower Gallery in 2003 included colorful artwork from driftwood and ice storm refuse. File photo

Lexington artist and retired University of Kentucky art professor Robert Tharsing, 72, died Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

Tharsing was known for his palette of bold, bright colors and eclecticism: He painted landscapes and other representational work as well as abstracts, and he sculpted.

“He was always interested in opposites … yin and yang,” said his wife, Lexington artist and art dealer Ann Tower. “How we perceive the world and how you can present it in a painting.”

Tower, who represented Tharsing in his work and who operates Ann Tower Gallery on Main Street, said her husband never stopped painting even though he had been ill for a long time.

“He loved painting,” she said. “He has left a huge, huge body of work.”

Lexington photographer Guy Mendes, a longtime friend of the couple, said Tharsing’s “work was what drove him and kept him going.”

“It was all about the process, about the making,” Mendes said. “That’s why he kept doing it. It thrilled him.”

Though Tharsing had shown his work nationally and internationally, he was featured in his first solo exhibition in New York City this summer. Paradise Interrupted, a series of works inspired by his fight against cancer, was on display at Christian Berst Art Brut on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The show was organized by Lexington native Phillip March Jones, who directs the gallery.

A native of southern California, Tharsing said he knew even as a child that he wanted to be a painter. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“I came away with the idea that there wasn’t one right way of making art, that there were many ways of making art that were interesting and important,” he told the Herald-Leader in 1990.

He came to Lexington in 1971 to teach at UK, having previously taught at Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University.

He retired in 2002.

Tharsing and Tower have a daughter, Lina Tharsing, who is also an artist, and the three spent hours in his-and-hers studios built in the backyard of the couple’s downtown home.

“We’ve had such a wonderful life,” Tower said Saturday night.

For years, the couple spent their summers in Nova Scotia, painting. Nature was a frequent theme in Robert Tharsing’s work, and many of his sculptures were created from driftwood he collected there.

Other works were based on months the couple spent in Italy, and later, time spent snorkeling in St. John in the Virgin Islands.

“He engaged in his whole life as art,” Tower said. “It was like research for him. He would follow every idea fully.”

Though he appreciated having his work noticed, Tower and Mendes said Tharsing shunned the spotlight and had a somewhat reserved personality.

“He preferred to have his paintings speak for him, and his paintings spoke volumes,” Mendes said.

In addition to Ann Tower and Lina Tharsing, he is survived two children from a previous marriage, Annika Christie and her husband, John Christie, and Behr Tharsing and his wife, Valorie Tharsing, all of California; five grandchildren and two sisters.

Funeral arrangements are pending.