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Tony Scherman, "Margaret," 2002-2005. Encaustic on canvas, Gift of the artist.
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"Jacques at Versailles"
Tony Scherman, "Jacques at Versailles," About 1789, 2000-2004. Encaustic on canvas, Gift of the artist.
TONY SCHERMAN, A Major Acquisition
Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg
January 9 to March 14, 2010
By Stacey Abramson
The recent donation by artist Tony Scherman of 11 of his artworks to the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) is as the title suggests – major. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1974, this Canadian painter has been upheld as the leading encaustic artist in Canada. The paintings that Scherman gifted to the WAG represent a shining overview of his career, ranging from meaty still lifes, to zoomed-in portraiture, to historical reflections. The stature of these six foot, luscious canvases is heightened by Sherman’s encaustic application of thick layers of opaque hot wax drips which build up to create haunting works reflecting the extreme emotions associated with life and death.
Scherman’s still lifes greet you at the entrance of his exhibition gallery. The viscid qualities of these paintings, evidenced in such workw as Omlette (1987), immediately exemplify Scherman’s mastery of his medium and organic understanding of his subject matter. One can almost taste the heartiness of the seasoned egg dish with its thick rutted surface, flecked with grey and brown seasonings. Untitled (1985), from the series Tabletop, had been the only Scherman work in the WAG collection before this donation. Now, alongside the new additions, we can truly appreciate this surreal painting of a ghostly baby crawling across a yellow-tinged tabletop shrewn with leftover chicken bones aptly placed amongst other domestic scenes.
Historical re-imaginings - specifically those of Napoleonic France – have been a key subject for many of Scherman’s paintings. Jacques at Versailles (2000-2004) employs the symbol of the opposition in France from this period - the rooster. The bird peers through a nebulous opening at the viewer with a sad, yet defiant expression. This, combined with expressive feather markings which start off as exclamation of streaks that bleed down to the bottom of the canvas in a series of hot wax drips, result in an extremely evocative work of art.
The faces that fill the massive canvases of his portraits also highlight Scherman’s oneness with his medium. As Mary Reid, Curator of Contemporary Art and Photography, Winnipeg Art Gallery says, “the encaustic process gives these portraits a heavily textured surface much like the bumps and wrinkles that are characteristic of human skin.” For subjects whom he knows intimately – such as his wife inMargaret (2002-2005) – he allows their subtleties to push through the image and the waxy landscape he creates. Scherman lets viewers get lost in the deepness of her eyes through the incredible quality of the light.
A few of Scherman’s earlier works round out the exhibition, giving viewers a glimpse into how his work has evolved over time. These early works hint at his innate understanding of the qualities of light and the presence of life inherent in the encaustic medium. It is refreshing that these earlier works were not the first thing the viewer sees, thereby allowing one to trace how his style developed backward in time, rather than the more common format using an artist’s older works as a springboard for comparison to newer works.
These gifts from Scherman are an incredible addition to the WAG’s already impressive collection of contemporary Canadian art. We can only hope that Scherman’s work will be on exhibit at the WAG or loaned to other galleries often, to provide a unique visual art experience to as many people as possible.