ARTICLE BY STARLA GATSON
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY MONTI SHARP
After spending more than three decades away from Monroe, Monti Sharp is ready to reconnect with his hometown. Besides, he says, there’s no place like it. Leaving Monroe was never what Sharp wanted to do, he explains. But it was necessary, as remaining in Ouachita Parish meant not having access to the resources he needed to pursue his dreams. And what he dreamed of doing was acting — specifically in a production of Sam Shepard’s True West.
“I was just channel-surfing one night, and I saw it,” Sharp says, remembering his first encounter with the play. “It was starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. Of course, I didn’t know who they were, but I was just amazed by this world that I was watching on this PBS program. I was like, ‘I want to do that. I want to do that play; I want to act like those guys.’”
Thus began his search to do just that. He started writing letters to universities and training academies and sending away for informational catalogs about their facilities. One particular institution caught his eye: the University of North Carolina School for the Arts.
“That year or shortly thereafter, Tom Hulce won the Oscar for Amadeus, [and] he went to North Carolina School of the Arts,” Sharp recalls, “and I thought, ‘That’s it. If he won an Oscar and he went there, that’s where I want to go.’”
So, he did. However, UNC is not where Sharp’s interest in theater and performing was born. That ball was in motion long before, his engrossment beginning at around age eight or nine.
“When I was a little kid, we used to get dropped off at the library on the weekend,” he explains. “On one occasion, I ran across a book on stage makeup just randomly; it was fascinating. They showed the process shots and how they turned, I think it was Dustin Hoffman, into a 100-year-old man in a movie called Little Big Man. It showed how they turned Hal Holbrook into Mark Twain by doing this old age makeup.”
The book Sharp just so happened to pick up that day piqued his curiosity, and the questions began running through his mind: what did things like nose putty really feel like? What else could you do with special effects and makeup? His inquisitiveness, partnered with his habit of helping his brother memorize lines for speech tournaments, opened the door for Sharp to step into the world of theater.
He was poised to be involved with the technical side of performing until his first onstage experience. After that, Sharp says, he was hooked; he began seeking out any opportunity he could find to perform.
“The Monroe Little Theatre was always there; I used to audition for plays there, but I never got cast,” he says, recalling his eagerness to act. “But I thought that’s kind of how it is for actors. You have to keep after it. I considered rejection a badge of honor.”
Fortunately, The Little Theatre wasn’t the Monroe native’s only chance to perform. Between speech club, choir, student government, and area high schools’ art fairs, Sharp’s high school years provided him plenty of space to do the things he loved and hone his creative abilities.
Post-high school, Sharp headed to the University of Louisiana at Monroe, then known as Northeast Louisiana University, to major in advertising design, a field of study he chose because he enjoyed drawing. While there, he joined the radio, TV, and film department’s weekend news program, Campus Closeup, as an anchorman. That led to his first professional media gig, a job at KNOE doing weekend news and radio. Sharp wouldn’t stay at NLU very long, though. Partway through his undergraduate studies, he transferred to the UNC School of the Arts.
After graduating, he began his professional acting career doing off-Broadway productions in New York City before transitioning to the small-screen as David Grant in the popular daytime drama Guiding Light in 1992. This role, which he played until 1995, earned him a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Younger Actor in a Drama Series and a Soap Opera Digest Award for Best Newcomer in 1993. The actor’s big-screen debut came in 1995 when he appeared as Officer Brown in the Hughes Brothers’ Dead Presidents.
Over the past 30 years, Sharp has racked up quite the list of credits, more recently appearing in programs including “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Killer in Suburbia,” and “9-1-1.” Despite building a successful acting career, it’s another profession that brings Sharp back to Monroe: art. At the time of this article’s writing, Sharp is preparing a collection of his paintings and drawings to be exhibited in his hometown in early December.
The exhibition will include portraiture, including depictions of some popular celebrities — “I have drawn some famous faces not necessarily because they’re famous, but because there’s something about their faces that impacts me and seems familiar,” Sharp explains — as well as pieces that speak to his faith and spirituality.
Besides the charcoal and graphite depictions of some of Hollywood’s best and brightest, patrons can also expect to see images of objects some may dismiss as mundane, he says, revealing that he tends to see deeper meanings in these items.
“We’re certainly in a time now where it seems to be that the right way to go is very flashy,” he goes on. “You got to have a lot of money, you got to have the right products, you got to be rich, you got to associate with the right people. We overlook the ordinary.” He quotes a New Testament passage from Hebrews to reinforce his appreciation for everyday things and people, “The Bible says, ‘Be kind to strangers, for you know not when you entertain angels unawares.’ We go through life, I think, in a way that’s directly in opposition [of that]. If you’re ordinary — you’re not with the right people, wearing the right clothes, or you don’t have enough money — not only do we not pay attention to you, we might just do bad things to you.”
Even in the thick of his acting career, Sharp was creating art, though not at the same level he does now. He currently sells his pieces through his website, wwwsharpartstudio.com, but previously, art was a means of coping with what he was experiencing. Sharp didn’t even consider his creations worth displaying until a close family member changed his mind.
“I was on a soap opera in New York, and my mom came up to visit,” he tells BayouLife. “I went to work one day, and she stayed at my apartment. When I came home, she had cleaned the place, and some of my drawings and paintings were hung on the wall. That was kind of a shock for me because I didn’t really view them as something you’d want to look at. But she said differently.”
At the urging of his late mother, Sharp began saving the pieces he made. She even taught him to strip the paint off of thrifted picture frames and revamp them to display his originals.
“Over time,” he says, “I built up a collection and started thinking more about certain techniques and processes I had become aware of and never tried. It all became a life of experimentation and curiosity.”
Art, as it turned out, gave Sharp’s investigative spirit the freedom to explore just as acting did. But that’s not the only commonality the two share, he declares, explaining, “Ultimately, it all sort of fits in the same mold — theater, painting, communications — it’s all about sharing and wanting to express some aspect of my experience that may not be served best by words.”
These experiences he shares through the pieces he creates and the characters he portrays, Sharp explains, aren’t always things he’s aware of. Sometimes, the message conveyed comes from his subconscious. Regardless of whether he planned for his art to spread a certain message or not, his pieces are a means of communicating, and that, Sharp says, is part of what keeps him engaged with creating.
“As I seek to communicate, what I get in return is a deeper understanding of myself, what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it,” he says. “It’s that journey that’s like the carrot in front of the horse. It keeps [me] going because [I’m] constantly learning not only about those [I] share the work with, but about myself as I evolve and change.”
Communicating so openly through both acting and making art leaves you exposed. And while that kind of openness and honesty can be nerve-wracking, Sharp says it’s worth pursuing. He says, “It’s important to stay vulnerable in life; [it] ensures that we remain sensitive to others, and that’s a very important part of our responsibility to other human beings.”
Another part of our responsibility to one another, he says, is to love each other, and do it with intention. Spreading love is Sharp’s greatest desire, and he aims to do so whenever possible, whether on set waiting for a director to call “action” or in his studio with a paintbrush in hand.
“I just feel like no matter what I’m doing or where I’m doing it, [there] is a choice,” Sharp muses. “We can be loving, we can be kind, we can embody the fruits of the Spirit or not. And even if it’s just a handshake, a smile, eye contact, a warm word, or a few minutes of talking about a painting with someone you may never see again, those moments are important. They make a difference, and ultimately, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do in some way: make a difference.”
Monti Sharp’s art will be on display in Downtown Monroe on December 1st and 2nd. In the meantime, you can see what he’s creating by following him on Instagram @sharpartstudio or visiting his website www.sharpartstudio.com.