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Phoenix Artist Tara Sharpe's 5 Creative Essentials

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Meet Tara Sharpe, painter, director, and friend to many.

Sharpe started her creative career early. She entered art school at 12, attending and graduating from the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida. Then, she was accepted to a summer residency for Fine Art at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Sharpe is known in Phoenix for her work with Artelshow (formerly ARTELPHX) – a project that saw temporary art installations installed throughout the Clarendon Hotel and other environments while she was the hotel's director of arts, media, community, and culture. Her work has been seen in local spots like {9} The Gallery, the Icehouse, and, currently, DeSoto Central Market. Previous displays were found in galleries across Arizona, West Palm Beach, South Haven, Michigan, and New York.

Today, Sharpe is a full-time artist. She keeps a paint-speckled studio in her sunny, Melrose District home, surrounded by her work and the work of her fellow artists, her pups Portia and Ghillie, and, of course, her essentials.

Diversified Experience
Sharpe values her own diversified experience, although, she says, “I feel like when you describe yourself like that, it’s a little pretentious."

But Sharpe has quite the resume. Her first job was working with Dennis Oppenheim as a curatorial assistant at the Eaton Fine Art gallery in West Palm Beach. She has also operated a boutique, was a hair stylist, once designed clothes, worked in hospitality, and is now, as you know, a full-time painter.

She says her time at Eaton Fine Art has always stuck with her. “That’s when I realized you could create things in environments.”

In her career as an artist, and in life in general, Sharpe has taken many risks. That daring has led to moving to a city she loved, New York, and moving away from that city to the Valley. It’s also come in the form of starting her own projects, including Artelshow.  “I’ve taken the risks in the sense where I’ve always thought, ‘Well, what’s the worst that could happen?’” she says.

Risk can also act as inspiration for her. “As a painter, I’ve always been influenced by expressionistic painters," she says. "I appreciate hyper-realism, but the things that really drive and inspire me are things that were done with a lot of expression and passion … and usually with a lot of movement, and quickly."

That thinking has manifested itself into ideas like, "When you want to do something, go for it; don’t sit there and labor over every detail,” she says. “That’s never been my personality.”

Household Supplies
Sharpe doesn’t use a palette, or a palette knife for that matter, because she doesn’t use straight oil paints. She also creates the texture in her work solely with paint. “I build it up with speed,” she says. “I just keep doing coats of gesso, concentrating the layers in certain places.”

She mixes full cups of paint when getting to work, and all that paint has to be kept somewhere. In the past, Sharpe has used muffin containers to hold paint, and still does when using watercolors, but has moved on to two specific, well-loved containers: 5.3-ounce Chobani yogurt cups, and pint-size Talenti gelato containers.

“The funny thing with containers is, a lot of people save containers for me, but I’m like a container snob,” she says. “I like containers that can stack within themselves, and if they have a lid, that’s awesome.”

Sharpe also has somewhat of a signature, dripping or running look in her pieces. She mixes Liquin (she grew up using linseed oil, but it takes too long to dry) and a thinner in her paint to create this look. “If I didn’t have that kind of glide with the medium, I wouldn’t be able to paint like how I paint,” she says.

Finally, Sharpe uses Popsicle sticks to stir paint, and uses them to apply small amounts of color to a piece.

Vinyl Gloves
“All gloves are not created equal,” warns Sharpe. While at work in her home studio, Sharpe wears black vinyl gloves. She knew about their benefits from her 10 years as a hairstylist.

Vinyl gloves eliminate excess smudging while painting. “If part of my hand hits part of the painting that’s wet or not fixed yet, it smears differently. Your [bare] hand ends up sticking to it, and you’ve just got a lot more texture to your skin, whereas if you’re wearing a glove, it slides right off, so might smear it, but you’re not smearing it with a pressure,” she explains.

And they help with clean up. It would take Sharpe longer to remove the paint from her hands and skin versus wiping off gloves. Plus, she adds, “I’ll get a couple of uses out of them.”

Ability to Connect with Caliber, Passionate Artists
Over her years in Phoenix, Sharpe has met or interacted with roughly 300 artists in the community from putting on shows. But there’s a secret to getting that number where it is.

“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, on any level, without artists that I really believe in,” she says, “I don’t believe in every artist on the planet, or in the community, but the ones that I do believe in, that are in my capacity to interact with, I try to [interact with them].”

Conversely, “If there’re artists that I would love to work with but they’re blue chip [works are in a long-standing and successful gallery] or beyond that, I just use them as an internal inspiration, and support them, go to their show, tell them I love their work.”

The difference is many of the artists Sharpe works with are considered emerging, even if they’ve been doing it for 10 years. Sharpe keeps in touch with, and has some sort of relationship with, a number of Phoenix artists. She’ll find the time to meet up, talk about upcoming projects, even just have a drink – and there’s a major benefit for her as well.

“I have an inner circle of support,” she says. “I’m lucky to have connections and friendships…I think people should surround themselves with people who elevate them.”

Final Thought: A lot of people don’t buy original art.
“Most people, they either collect art or they don’t, and the average person doesn’t,” says Sharpe, “And that is a goal that I have for our community. I don’t know how realistic it is.”

Sharpe expresses how people will spend money on hair, handbags, coffee, even stock art from IKEA or Target, but don’t have any original art in their homes.

“There’s a level of permanence to the choice [of an original art piece], whereas your handbag will wear out, you’re going to want to change your glasses, you’re going to lose your sunglasses, you’ve got to get your hair redone,” she says. “There are all these things that are impermanent that we put value on, but then there’s things that have more permanence that we seem to have a block on putting importance on.”

Sharpe says there are many ways to make art affordable; all it takes is giving up one of these luxuries to begin a collection. “A lot of galleries take payment plans, do lay-aways,” she says, “It just depends on what your priorities are.”

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