Ash Thorp was student of art and art history before embarking on a successful career as a digital designer in Hollywood. Noted for an exacting attention to detail, Thorp’s work produces a visceral sense of the craft involved even in a viewer that has never digitally rendered anything. A practiced videographer, Thorp’s designs are indistinguishable from the “real” world, with textures, light sources, and other seemingly imperceptible details offered with uncanny fidelity.
This inability to differentiate real from fake introduces a tension that Thorp exploits in the Nascent Series. If the objects and figures depicted in Thorp’s diptychs are computer-generated, what is real? Or, more precisely, if an artist can craft, through a screen, something that feels so real, then how easy is it to (re-)produce reality? This is the central question of the Nascent Series: Who creates our reality, and how?
The answer the series provides at first appears almost literal: Happiness is commodified, partly by corporations (note the subtle use of trademarks and bar codes throughout), and partly by destructive social norms whose presence is ubiquitous (but whose origins are not interrogated by the work). That his meditation on commodified happiness takes the form of digitally rendered happiness pills that are being offered for sale makes this an act of performance as much as digital artwork.
The performative nature of the Nascent Series, though, is key to understanding it. The reality depicted in these works is bleak, but this is not a nihilist’s view of the world—it is a call to action to move beyond the status quo. Thorp’s mastery of his craft functions on its surface as a gateway to existential dread, to be sure, but it also points towards transcendence. The same illusionism that introduces doubt over reality can equally be read as an optimistic reaffirmation of humanity’s creative abilities. We are not doomed to the reality on offer in the Nascent Series; we can create a new one with sufficient ingenuity.
This reading aligns with what I know of Thorp as a fundamentally hopeful person; it also aligns with much of modern philosophical discourse. Kierkegaard’s leveling has individuality; Nietzsche’s Last Man has the Übermensch; and Durkheim’s anomie has shared values. Though these philosophers don’t always agree, they all believe in the existence of pathways towards meaning and away from emptiness. The Nascent Series does not identify that path, but Thorp implores us to find it.
About the Author
Adam Levin is President, Director, and CEO at the Toledo Museum of Art