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Sherrie Wolf, 'Counterpoint: New Paintings'
at Laura Russo Gallery, Portland
Review by Richard Speer

An accomplished painter with one foot in neoclassicism and the other in the Rococo


An accomplished painter with one foot in neoclassicism and the other in the Rococo—and a set of eyes gazing back implacably from contemporary times—Sherrie Wolf makes a case for wry stylistic juxtaposition in “Counterpoint: New Paintings.” Like the dual melodic lines invoked by the show’s title, Wolf’s oil paintings on canvas interweave multiple stories. The artist is a formidable student of the history and etymology of painting. A few years ago, for an exhibition at Marylhurst University, she painstakingly reproduced, to scale, Gustave Courbet’s monumental 1855 tableau, The Artist’s Studio. In a similar vein, her current work incorporates historical references into the backdrops of her floral still lifes, most often drawing inspiration from the Baroque and Rococo. Peach and Cherries with Rising Sun references Boucher’s The Rising of the Sun (circa 1740), while Dahlias with Concert nods to a panorama by Melchior d’Hondecoeter.

This conceit never devolves into gimmickry, thanks to the affecting oddity and intellectual richness of these foreground/background, modern-day/antiquarian duets. Their lush coloration gives the bouquets a voluptuary sumptuousness on first glance, yet they take on a clear-eyed sobriety when the eye pivots to the wispy swaths of sky, stream, and foliage behind them. The chronological disconnect is jarring. The ripe, seductive now-ness of the peaches and petals jostle against the backgrounds’ musty historicism, whose landscapes recede not only into the distance of painterly perspective, but also into the distance of a far-receded past. The crystalline foregrounds seem to rebel against their antecedents, and this reaction against the Rococo lends the works their neoclassical enmity.

The artist’s technique is unimpeachable, her brushwork immaculate, and her chromatic intuition adept at balancing harmony with pop. Her assurance superimposes an arid commentary atop the still-life form’s florid extravagances: a deadpan Koonsian detachment that stands back, raises an eyebrow, and allows the lip to curl at the sight of so many cherubs, urns, water fowl, and King Charles Spaniels. In Wolf’s impish time machine, the lush reveries of the past do not overpower contemporary eyes, but sharpen them.

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