To Instill Life
Sherrie Wolf graduated from the Museum Art School, now the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR, in 1974 and received an MA from the Chelsea College of Art in London, England in 1975. She began exhibiting her work in the mid 1970s while teaching art at PNCA. Her work is included in such collections as The Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts, Portland Art Museum; Hallie Ford Museum, Salem, OR; the Tacoma Art Museum, Washington; City of Seattle; and Washington State Art Collection. Wolf has also been included in multiple curated group exhibitions across the country. In 2012, Wolf’s work was presented in a solo exhibition at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and earlier in 2014 she was featured in a solo show at the Long Beach Museum of Art in Southern California.
Early in my college art education, I was lightning-struck by a retrospective in San Francisco of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Her huge, boldly beautiful still-life images inspired my belief in a life as a successful woman painter. Around then, historians began revealing many women artists that had been overlooked throughout history. Successful careers of artists such as Rosa Bonheur, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun provided needed role models for me.
I paint in oil on canvas, and emphasize still-life objects interacting with references to historic art. Lately (since 2012 and through the decade) I have made large scale self-portraits to see myself as a “woman in history”. I have substituted myself for Courbet in his allegory “The Painter’s Studio” (with a nude man in place of Courbet’s muse), for Charles Wilson Peale in his museum self-portrait, for Velázquez in “Las Meninas”, and most recently for Rosa Bonheur in her studio.
My vocabulary of visual images is personal and intimate, and began with lingere, the ultimate feminine apparel, as a familiar subject linked to the female body: my body. In the late 1990s I started to use works by Artemisia Gentileschi as a backdrop for plates of fruit and other still-life material. The voluptuous curves of fruit created poignantly ironic juxtapositions against paintings like her powerful “Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes”.
Women persist to defy the boundaries set by family obligations and bias in exclusionary environments where male artists have historically achieved more success and exposure. Artistic expressions viewed as “feminine” or un-masculine sometime elicit disrespect. Beyond gender identity, I look to all my artistic predecessors for the fluidity of creativity which knows no sex or gender; and I have been finding other prejudicial boundaries such as race and class to probe, perhaps somewhat subliminally while distracting the viewer with emphasis on unapologetic lushness.
Struck by the current phobic reaction to immigration, my painting “Sea Of Tea” references my mother’s post-war voyage by ship from her New Zealand homeland to the United States. As with all my work, I employ personal symbolism, with a collection of inherited teacups to represent my family history. The dark blue satin fabric, like the vast ocean, serves as an undulating unsteady ground: an immigrant’s doubt. There could be concern that beautiful, large scale images of tea cups, tulips and other “feminine identified objects” might cast me as a dilettante who paints pretty pictures. I am undaunted by this, with O’Keeffe at my back.
Click here for Exhibition Trifold with essay by Sue Taylor. Sue Taylor is an art historian, curator, and critic and Professor Emerita of Art History at Portland State University.
Artworks on view made possible by
Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation
Russo Lee Gallery, Portland, OR