Her desks and dressers, glittered and arranged in multiple color combinations, contain articles on everything from Andy Warhol to files on fashion, fat people, and funny expressions. There are stacks of journals documenting her daily activities, and a glitter-framed rundown of everything she loved in 1987 (sample listings: Sixteen Candles and Christmas lights). Her adjacent room contains racks of vintage clothing, various styles of her signature platform boots, and Sloth paintings of bands like the Briefs, the Whip, and the White Stripes. Although she sweetly apologizes repeatedly for the mess, her rooms are the types of places where you could spend hours sifting through things and still find new creations to hold your attention--from the pins and magnets she's made out of glitter, glue, and fake jewels, to the photo albums showcasing Thomas in her multiple childhood hair colors. Even though every new object she touches seems to cause an avalanche of three others, sitting in Thomas' rooms is like gutting a fantastic artistic mind that's constantly cluttered with new ideas for ways to frame itself within pop culture. And those are just the two rooms she inhabits alone; her influence spreads through the rest of the house via a furry troll key holder and pizza pie clock she made for her dad (although the coffin stuffed with a blowup doll that sits in the middle of the living room is her father's-- a prop Thomas uses for the Polaroids she takes of her friends and visitors). "I'm totally entertained and social in this environment," Thomas says of her eye-catching and unusual décor.
Though you could write an entire article talking about the ins and outs of Thomas' living space, on a recent overcast afternoon the real reason I was at her home was to discuss her Sloth painting series, an idea she's worked on for three years where she paints the face of Sloth (a hideously deformed but soft-hearted character from the 1985 movie The Goonies) on different cultural personalities. The most recent show of her work, which hangs at Re-bar through the end of June, includes depictions of Mötley Crüe, David Bowie, the Unabomber, Elvis, Andrew W. K., Jackie Hell, Ursula Android, and Marilyn Manson, among others--all with various brightly crosshatched and color-blocked backgrounds, a similar oblong face and googly-eyed Sloth stare topping their poses, making all the world a Sloth affair. Even as the face stays mostly the same, though, it's easy to distinguish, say, the Sun-Maid raisin label in one painting, or the Family Feud setup in another. In Thomas' creations, this awkward-looking creature has overtaken the universe, and everyone from the famous to the unknown trend-chaser (check out Thomas' electroclash Sloth) shares the same crazy visage.
For Thomas, the Sloth idea germinated as a compulsion that has yet to run its course. "It started pretty much when I did the [collage] of my favorite people and I just couldn't stop," says Thomas, sitting in paint-splattered overalls with her pink-tipped hair framing her face. "It was just so funny. Even now, when I make that [Sloth] face in the mirror, I crack myself up. I got stuck after I started doing them. I didn't know what else to paint." She says that her obsession with Sloth doesn't come from a similar fascination with the Goonies movie, but with the specific Sloth character, who comes to the rescue of a motley prepubescent group in the Steven Spielberg-produced film. "I just think he's really cute," she grins. "I don't think it's a sexual attraction, but I think toothless people are really sexy, I guess." She gets new variations on the Sloth expressions by making faces in the mirror, she says, and by "looking at lots of pictures of Michelle [from the band Shoplifting] because she has the funniest photos."
Thomas says her mind is constantly clogged with new Sloth concepts. "I have a million ideas," she says, gesturing to the list above her closet for future portraits (including Tron, The Breakfast Club, Burt Reynolds, and Riverdance). "I'll be somewhere with people and I'll start thinking of more ideas, and I'll just want to go home and paint. I work on a bunch of things at once, but I've been trying to set goals to get through them all."
Even though Thomas has never shied away from creative endeavors, it's been her work as a clown for the past 10 years that she claims really aided her painting ideas. She became a professional clown while still in beauty school (Thomas also cuts hair at Lucky 7 salon in Queen Anne three days a week), and works all kinds of events--from cush Microsoft gigs, to parties for children and frat boys. Through a mixture of painting faces, teaching craft classes for kids, and creating her clown character, Thomas has slowly built her own colorful reality. Her clown name is Doodlebug, and her first series of themed paintings focused on bugs (a remnant from her bug focus hangs in the living room--a green weevil with rainbow crosshatched colors behind it).
The Sloths started as paintings she did of and for friends, but Thomas credits Chris Bell of the Briefs for giving her the extra momentum to continue. She has two Briefs Sloth paintings hanging in her house, new wave sunglasses and all. "I used to give a lot of paintings away," she says. "But it was Chris who told me I should keep doing them, and I started getting shows." Thomas is now on her second show at Re-bar--with a third slated for next year--where she is also a frequent character in Pho Bang skits, helping Ursula Android with her wigs and performing as Jackie Hell's little helper, the freaky mute Debbie.
Not one to shy away from continual artistic reinvention, Thomas says her next creative foray is to meld herself with LaToya Jackson, the slightly less crazy sister of Michael. To help get into the part, Thomas says she plans on wearing lots of shoulder pads, beaded outfits, and a fake boa constrictor, as well as incorporating a "nautical look" into her wardrobe. "I started a LaToya Jackson stencil and I wanted to be called LaTara as a joke," she says, "and then someone wanted to take pictures of LaTara and now I have a website--but I haven't seen it yet."
"It's funny," she adds, laughing, "I already have three different people who want to do the music for it and a video."
Tara Thomas' Sloth paintings are up at Re-bar, 1114 Howell St, through the end of June.