Trees (2012). Oil on Canvas. 84×72 inches. Courtesy of the Henry V. Heuser, Jr. Collection. photo courtesy of author.

The day that I visited the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts on Main Street, the sun was shining through their gigantic windows facing out onto Museum Row; and the museum was abuzz with people getting ready for the KMAC Couture Fashion Show. Claire Shermans work was being shown on the third floor gallery which was still filled with chairs from the artist talk that had been held several days earlier. It was because of the chairs that I could only view the paintings from across the room or from 2 feet awaya viewing construct Ive always found intriguing.

Detail from Trees (2012). Oil on Canvas. 84×72 inches. Courtesy of the Henry V. Heuser, Jr. Collection. photo courtesy of author.

Sherman has been painting landscapes since approximately 2004 and she has been known to create these breathtakingly monolithic paintings in a daysome are approximately 100x 84”— which is hard to capsulate as a painter. It takes a great deal of conviction to be able to paint with such confidence; the works seem at once brave and tentative concurrently. Upon close inspection, the viewer can see moments of passive application in quick, gestural mark making, becoming atmospheric and Franz Kline-esque. But for every confident mark there’s another moment of obvious hesitationa bend in a line; where the artist clearly stopped, stood, and studied the image being relayed to canvas. All of these observations are from up close. At a distance, the paintings seem almost pixelatedvery general, detail-less. Shermans use of color is highly pleasant, for lack of a better word. Her usage of permanent greens, mauves, pthalo greens and blues ,ochres, lavenders, cobalts, and others to mark the seemingly random occurrences that nature provides is exciting.

The exhibitions curatorial statement explains that Sherman has moved from using found images from postcards and travel books to using her own photographs taken during hiking trips. It makes me wonder at what date she switched practices. The paintings in this exhibition span from 2012-2016. Which paintings in this show were from her own photographs and what were appropriated? There are several paintings that, for me, read as portraitureone central figure, isolated and appraised amongst other lesser objectsTree (2016) and Island (2016), for example. I wonder if these two in particular were from her own photos, leading me to speculate that these paintings are working as some form of nature portraiture. The curatorial statement references nineteenth century romantic landscape paintingbut I see twentieth century portraitureparticularly after the hefty influence of pop psychology of the ‘60s a la Alice Neel.

Tree (2016). Oil on canvas. 84×66 inches. Courtesy of KMAC Permanent Collection. Photo courtesy of author.

I think what really stuck with me was not only that these are astounding works and Im glad to have them in Kentucky; but that these paintings, for me, are a visual reminder of the duality of memory within our contemporary context. These landscape paintings make me think about the fleeting nature of memory. Visual components of memory never seem concrete but rather fluid and vaguely transparentdetails missing, but nevertheless important. Shermans paintings hold the contradictions of memory in the twenty-first century: though our ability to remember is ever changing and evolving with age and life stuff we now have the ability to capture every moment we desire to keep (in high resolution, if we so desire) and digitally catalogue away with access for as long as the internet is alive and kicking.

These paintings, along with a small collection of mixed media studies, are available for view at the KMAC in Louisville until May 21st, 2017.

–Megan Bickel

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