The George Adams Gallery is pleased to announce San Francisco-based artist Katherine Sherwood’s first exhibition with the gallery and her New York solo debut. Titled In the Yelling Clinic: 2010-2019, the exhibition presents a decade of work from Sherwood’s on-going series’ of paintings that reference historically significant works of art, considered in the context of the artist’s experience with disability.
Sherwood, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1997 at the age of 44, is professor emerita at UC Berkeley, the artist-in-residence at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the co-founder of the art and disability collective, The Yelling Clinic, from which this body of work gets its name. The purpose of the collective is to open broader dialogues around notions of disability and to combine the therapeutic potential of art practice with activism and community outreach. In this sense, the paintings in the exhibition stem from the dual idea of healing oneself while undermining traditional concepts of beauty. Sherwood has continuously used copies of her own brain scans and medical illustrations in her paintings; when combined with well-known images taken from the art historical canon, the altered figures become hybrids both familiar and strange.
The exhibition features a group of large-scale ‘Venuses,’ based on classical odalisques by artists such as Giorgione, Goya and Ingres, to which details have been added such as a prosthetic or cane. While their bodies are simplified, their faces are replaced by copies of the artist’s fMRI scans and detailed, ornate, tiara-like headdresses are constructed from medical illustrations of the brain from the past six centuries. Sherwood’s ‘Venuses’ dispense with the suggestive contexts and voluptuous rendering of their originals. Instead, she leaves the canvas mostly bare, save for the brightly decorative and patterned surfaces the nudes recline on. This technique also shows off her method of recycling discarded reproductions of historic paintings - prints on linen meant as teaching aids she pieces together to form her canvases. Literally working on the backs of the classical canon, Sherwood is further suggesting a revisionist approach as an alternative to art history.
More recently, Sherwood has turned to still life paintings as sources for her ‘Brain Flower’ paintings, continuing her use of recycled canvases. Looking to Impressionist and 17th century Dutch renditions of flower arrangements, she selectively replaces blooms with collaged copies of brain imagery while experimenting with a more painterly approach overall. Sherwood explains, “I used to think my use of brain-related imagery was an indicator of joyous life, but as time passes I see its utility as a representation of life and death.” In much the same way as the earlier ‘Venuses,’ these flower paintings subvert notions of beauty while building on the traditional concept of the ‘vanitas'.
In the side gallery will be a group of ‘Healers,’ constructed paintings with articles of clothing that suggest hallucinogenic portraits of either hospital staff or their patients. The first works in the “Yelling Clinic” series, they most directly allude to the collective’s purpose and Sherwood’s own process of healing through her art. A vocabulary of poured and applied latex paint, collaged imagery and skeletal limbs gives their textured surfaces the semblance of dissected and repaired bodies; the ‘Healers’ are then talismanic stand-ins for the healing process, both of themselves and others.
Sherwood received her BA from the University of California, Davis and her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. She has exhibited regularly throughout California and is the recipient of many grants and awards including the Guggenheim Fellowship, the NEA Artist Fellowship, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant and a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant. Her work is represented in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Ford Foundation, the De Young Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Crocker Museum, Sacramento, and the San Jose Museum of Art, among others. She is a professor emerita at UC Berkeley in the Art Department and the Disability Studies Program.