WORDS Megan Kelley
Forms twist and uncoil across the flat swipes of monochrome color, their edges liquid against the smooth canvas surfaces. They are swift and visceral, even as the paint that surrounds them thickens, wrinkles, and wipes. Though interpreted as living creatures, their visage is distorted by movement, creating a sense that we glimpse them inhabiting many moments of time at once, occupying a vast and unknowable dimensional space even as they force against and recede over the edges of the picture plane we are most familiar with.
For Kelly Sherrod, these beings evoke both the familiarity of a rampantly verdant nature and the residual evidence of a human mark, yet stand on the plane as transformed—something alien, something new, something mutating with possibility and the acceptance of the unknown.
Sherrod begins by using a printmaking brayer to roll acrylic paint onto a smoothed canvas in textural applications, or with a brush designed to create the graphic boldness of a flat stroke. “I quite like the effect of starting flat but trying to get the being to exist with some depth, to have that optical effect,” Sherrod says, her intent to seek the fullness of the figure generated from the dissonance of a flat background. To achieve the effect, her paint is thinned, pushed to the limits of
fluidity and translucency while still carrying the weight of pigment. Sherrod must work quickly, relying on intuition and her own familiarity with her motion and gesture, pulling the figure from the reservoir of the background and collapsing it into the forefront before the thinned paint dries.
This final approach of movement is a combination of paint applied by hand, sometimes with the controlled effect of a brush, in order to create the centralized rhythm that evokes torso, a flurry of limbs, the span of a long neck, muscle, bone, flight.
“I want to make something alien, something organic, to try to create a being or an environment that is uniquely both at the same time, that transports the viewer into a creative space, a three-dimensional space that carries a lot of depth even on a flat surface.
“Ultimately, I like the crudeness—just being raw with it, unrefined, the kind of primal feel you get from undefined nature. The crudeness is an honesty; the viewer sees how this thing was made, how the paint was pulled off the canvas, deposited into a being.”
The fluidity of visual movement as well as material is vital to Sherrod, whose swift method requires an acceptance of the moment balanced with a thorough understanding of potential outcome and how best to influence or rein it in. “I realized I couldn’t get much textural difference with [painting with bare] skin, so I found gloves,” Sherrod explains. “I experimented with lots of different types of gloves, and I apply different pressures and get all sorts of different markings with them. In some of my paintings I decide I want a more controlled stroke, so I grab the brush and introduce that element.”
The versatility of the process—and the places where it is unclear where one pull becomes a stroke, or where the figure starts and the ground stops—resonates with Sherrod’s search for liminality, leaving the viewer to question what they’re seeing, viewing the construction as well as the content, simultaneously familiar and Other. “I think of memory a lot, that these beings I am creating are captured like a photocopy, one that is less recognizable as you replicate it over time—the degradation of reality and memory that happens when you try to hold onto something.”
The paintings straddle that place of being both construct and context, of belonging both within known space and outside of the usual approach. Sherrod is comfortable with the duality. “I think a lot about how what we see with our eyes is not necessarily reality: that other creatures, like bats, see the same things very differently because they have other methods to sense them; that scientists talk about string theory but we only have theories; we don’t really understand what reality is or what it is made of.”
Sherrod’s beings thrive in this unknown, flirting at the edges of being recognizable even as they defy classification, existing in a space where they are alternately three-dimensional paint, undefined depiction, and flattened pictorial space. We are asked as viewers to imagine the truly unimaginable, to contextualize things we recognize we are limited in our ability to know, much less describe.
“We live in the Fermi Paradox, that the probability that other life forms exist is high, but we have no evidence of it, perhaps because we lack the methods to truly observe it. In my paintings, we accept it is an image, a depiction, but at the same time we understand that it’s not, because it’s describing something that cannot be interrupted and held to a single place.” na
To see more of Kelly Sherrod’s work, visit www.kellysherrod.com or contact her through the website for an appointment to view the works in person.