There has always been an air of the arch epicene in Storm Tharp's work: the perspective of a refined but warped dandy looking out at a beautiful world through dark-tinted spectacles, whose lenses are not ground from optical glass, but from two-way funhouse mirrors, such that even the most rarefied visage becomes a grotesquerie. Looking back over the artist's exhibitions at PDX Contemporary, we see this brand of uppity perversity in the dewy androgyne of Jodie Jill (2009), the pig-nosed mall rat in Jerimiah Puckett (2006), and the spinster channeling Norman Bates' mother in The Decorator (2010). Then there are the S/M-flavored sculptures: the fearsome horns of Maybeline (2004); the aberrant clown of Bather I (2005); and the wicked, spiked pumps of Snakes (2008), now displayed in the Nines Hotel. Even in his abstractions, Tharp filters the purity of minimalism through a pastel sieve until it emerges, needling and cloying, in Easter eggs such as Enterlaughing (2009) and Vreeland (2010). If you were to toss the Marquis de Sade, Francis Bacon, Noël Coward, George Sanders and Ted Bundy in a blender and hit "purée," the smoothie that would emerge would be Storm Tharp.
Another, more déclassé, predilection emerges, however, in the group show Oompf: enthusiasm, vigor, or energy. sex appeal, of which Tharp's works are the indisputable highlight. Descending from the aesthete's dandified remove, he wades into sweaty, bathhouse grime in his most explicitly homoerotic work to date. Among the eight striking prints in his Health series are the bearish, bearded men of Nos. 2, 3, and 6; the hirsute figure of No. 1; the rear-view cock-and-balls-at-the-ready of No. 5; and the extraordinary phantasmagoria of No. 4. In this last, Tharp has created a feverish, fractured tableau celebrating the joys of sodomy: multiple figures—out of scale to one another—mounting ass cracks, shoving fingers into rectums, hiking up legs, hugging thrusting buttocks deeper, hairy thighs and Goliath-sized feet akimbo. Imagine Tom of Finland butt-fucking Salvador Dalí, and you begin to get the fetid, hothouse desperation of this wild paean to hyperkinetic humping, which ought to be used as a recruitment poster to get straight men to try gay sex, just once, if they dare. What does this series bode for Tharp's ever-evolving oeuvre? Has he permanently deserted his erstwhile Olympian perch to slum, cruise and troll with the horny hoi polloi? Stay tuned.
SEE IT: PDX Contemporary, 925 NW Flanders St., 222-0063. Closes July 2.