Sherman’s paintings of exposed islands and chaotic forest interiors challenge us to encounter unpredictable, wild nature through the emphatic materiality of paint. Existing in tension with landscape archetypes, the paintings, like the exhibition’s title, evoke specific places that could also be anything, anywhere.
Sherman distorts scale, color, and perspective to create “unraveling environments.” Branches bowed by fringes of moss sweep across the canvas and plunge back into space. Angular limbs appear silhouetted amidst the searing blues and agitated brushstrokes of the night forest beyond. In these works, the artist’s approach to subject matter and paint handling finds a parallel in her interest in epiphytes—plants that grow on top of one another in the tree canopy.
As Grabner writes, “Landscape, albeit a traditional genre, has become a difficult category of engagement in contemporary painting simply because its pictorial limitations are nearly impossible to explore anew. Yet Claire Sherman is dedicated to landscape’s potential, and her large, complex compositions effortlessly depict the logic of the natural world while also tumbling into disorientating abstraction.”
Works titled Island seem to punctuate the frenzied, dense tangle of the overpowering tree paintings. Surrounded by empty sky, the centered masses test the limits of canvases already over eight feet tall. Each sheer rock face is made up of impossibly long drags of vertical paint and short compressed marks that register as geologic strata while simultaneously indexing the pace of the painting process.
It is important to Sherman that her paintings take shape over the course of just one day in the studio. She avoids the overworked, achieving a surface imbued with a sense of ease, speed, and openness to imperfections. Yet sustained research, reading, travel, and photography inform the act of painting, resulting in works that are both seductive and ambivalent. Sherman explains, “I engage the history of painting while addressing our current relationships to images, landscape, and contemporary media.”