In the Studio: Process of a Painting with Chris Thorson

Thinking back to my senior year of college, I lived in a co-ed rental house with a bunch of guys and I remember the shocking and seemingly exponential amount of dirty socks that would congregate in the living room. In fact, there were so many that I christened a plastic laundry bin as a permanent dirty sock receptacle, living quietly behind one of the leather sofas.

Dirty socks are Chris Thorson’s (NAP #109) recent subject for her three-dimensional cast and painted works. These discarded, twisted forms carry a life of their own that tell a number of stories – where they were that day (mud from a hike or wetness from the rain), what kind of activities ensued (knee-high soccer socks or thin black dress socks), and what kind of mood the wearer might be in (sleeping sloth socks or whimsical polka-dots). For something so ugly, dirty, and potentially smelly, these worn socks carry a beauty that Thorson illuminates in her works.


Chris Thorson | detail from “Bro Series,” mixed media: hydrocal mixture, gouache, watercolor, colored pencil, oil paint, and dry pastel, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

In this Process of a Painting, we follow Thorson from start to finish as she casts and paints a sock sculpture for her aptly titled series “Bro Palace.”  - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Thorson sheds light on her process in the following section and in her image captions, “My work plays off conventions of trompe l'oeil and the readymade, and it tests the boundaries between what we overlook and what we esteem. I’m currently working on an ongoing series entitled Bro Palace that depicts dirty socks. At the end of the day, I take off my socks and throw them on the floor. I’ve become interested in the aesthetics of this: I like the socks’ undulating forms, their stains and wear patterns, and the ‘compositions’ they make with one another on the rug.

My practice combines painting with sculpture, and to reproduce the socks, I use mold making, casting, and painting. I usually work on multiple pieces at the same time, and some works will stand-alone while others will become components of larger installations.”


To make the molds, I begin with real socks. I treat the textiles and then use polyurethane rubbers to create a glove mold that captures the socks’ forms and textures.


After the polyurethane has cured, I use plaster tape to create a mother mold that will serve as a support structure during casting.


Once the molds are complete, I remove the original socks. The resulting cavity is imprinted with fine detail.


In the casting process, I pigment a hydrocal mixture and pour the casts. Once the casts are removed from the molds, I do trimming and finishing work.


The casts are now are ready to paint. (This is my favorite part of the process.) I use a variety of media – gouache, watercolor, colored pencil, oil paint, and / or dry pastel—to achieve specific effects.  I always depart from the colors of the original item--- it’s more fun that way. 


I decided to pair the finished polka-dot sock with a striped version I created earlier. In a gallery space, the socks would be installed directly on the floor. 

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Chris Thorson’s work is currently on view in Managing Object Expectations, curated by Sabrina Blaichman at the Hessel Museum, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, and in As Night Strolled Over to See What’s Up, curated by Nora Roriguez at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York, New York. She has presented solo exhibitions with Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco and Karl Hutter Fine Art in Beverly Hills, and her work has been included in recent group exhibitions at Southern Exposure in San Francisco, Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland, Miami University in Oxford, OH, and the John F. Peto Studio Museum in Island Heights, New Jersey.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.

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