For years Sherrie Wolf was primarily known for producing lush, razor-sharp still lifes. Eventually she referenced art history in her work by moving fairly recognizable paintings into the backgrounds. The figures in these backgrounds became increasingly significant, their facial expressions casting a mood around a painting. The artist then decided to take on the face exclusively for this exhibition, titled “Faces.”
Altogether there are 60 paintings; some are hung horizontally across the gallery while others are placed into a grid. Most of the works meet us at eye level and are just a little larger than life-sized. While the exhibition is formed by individuals, the paintings together also function well as an installation. We meet a raucous crowd of famous art historical characters, all from great painters of the 14th through the 19th century.
We see the entire face in each portrait, which gives us a clear recognition of the individual. Wolf taps into their expressions by cropping closely, eliminating most of the hair, hats, style and fashion of the times. The cropping leaves us not only with an expression but more importantly, a style in paint. Wolf flaunts her facility in rendering, jumping from the icy perfection of Ingres in his “Princesse Albert de Broglie” to the dappled, malleable approach of Rubens in “The Fur (Helene Fourment).”
The artist readily admits that her relationship with art history is not just maintained through viewing the actual works. Like many, her appetite and vision is fed also through the book, the slide and the JPEG. Reproductions are so important to Wolf that she collects them, sometimes creating more than one version of a painting on that basis. In the case of Caravaggio’s “Boy Bitten by a Lizard,” two paintings from two different sources were made, each with different cropping. As Wolf interprets great paintings, she also examines how we experience art history. A work comes to us from many sources, with each experience of an image significant.
This exhibition is also a celebration of the lives of great artists via their work. Wolf clearly looks at her choices as a way to get closer to them - via their paint, their methods, their lives and times. An example is her investment in Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, which borders on an intimate relationship. Wolf has often copied her work. In “Faces,” Vigée-Le Brun is presented three times, all from self-portraits. Wolf follows Vigée-Le Brun’s own self-awareness, as she is portrayed from a young woman to one in full possession of her confidence and place in her profession. That kind of confidence is easily displayed in “Faces,” a gutsy and solid venture.