Artist Wes Sherman has been painting since 1992 and has had over 30 solo shows. He received his MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in 2003. He is the chair of exhibitions at The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster, New Jersey. Sherman has been a visiting artist at many universities among them Temple, Rutgers, and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 2011 he also received a fellowship for painting from New Jersey Council of the Arts.
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. – Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)
The relationship I have to the nature, and my desire for an urban and rural landscape is something I often think about. In a very transcendental--Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman sort of way--I aspire for a reflective understanding of our relationship to nature. I believe we have an Arcadian ideal of nature but our very precepts often taint the ideal. Just take note of any land left untouched, in a couple of years nature will reclaim it and with enough time human presence on the land will disappear. We have a desire to control and protect the land. We also have a need to retreat to and flee from nature. The combined savagery and enlightened quietness of nature produces a very Dionysian and Apollonian sphere. For me, these paintings reflex my own conflicting experiences of the last 10 years, my rush to move to New York City and my recent retreat to a new lake cabin in northern New Jersey. This new body of work is a reflection of the many dualistic ideas I struggle with from time to time.
I am interested in the relationship between abstraction and landscape painting. Norbert Wolf has argued in an essay about landscape painting that this genre stands “closest to pure painting in its concentration on color and light.” I believe that in many ways abstraction owes a lot to this genre and how it is also interested in the nature of color and light.
I also work from the canon of painting history. I believe that we have always borrowed from the past to redefine or rediscover our existence. I start with a painting from the canon and then begin to abstract from it until I find something new about color, space and paint. Within my work I try to master the use of the medium but more importantly I try to pick work from the canon of history so that when I come to the end of a painting I feel I have discovered what the canon painting and the process of making a new painting have to offer. Art is not a decoration but a declaration of ones self-understanding of place in this world.
I paint about painting and the nature of painting. It is neither a grand or uncommon act. Painting is one of the earliest acts of human beings; we paint to define our lives and to put our existence into context with nature.
The act of painting is a search for meaning within nature’s sublime. This probing for self-meaning is at the heart of the sublime and the history of painting. The painter is constantly trying to reason a way into nature, while the philosopher is trying to reason a way out of nature. Painters who get their hands messy with the mud of paint and interact with the history of painting, will by the natural act of painting, look for the spiritual purity, grandeur or excellence that is hidden in nature’s sublime.
July 9, 2008
I am drawn to painting for its heritage. The act of painting needs neither eulogy nor apology. Painting does not need to be defended or praised.
What can be said has been said. Artists recycle the same ideas, concepts and stories. Good paintings reflect humanity and are workable fictions. Good paintings are at once singular and plural. They simultaneously emerge and fade into history. All good paintings are good, making them as insignificant as they are significant.
I paint about painting. I recycle its history, ancient and recent. Familiar iconography, styles and genres tease the eye as they emerge and converge on the canvas.
“You’re wavered between two – between drawing and color, between the meticulous phlegm and stern resolve of the old German masters and the dazzling ardor and happy abundance of the Italians. You’ve tried to imitate Holbein and Titian, or Dürer and Veronese, at the same time. It was certainly a magnificent ambition, but what’s happened?" – Honore de Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece
Over the years I have, in a sense, “collected” a group of paintings and painters. This mental collection has become a kind of inner measuring stick for me. My mental art collection directs the choices I make from a painting’s start to its finish and frames my view of a painting’s success or failure.
In Walter Benjamin’s short essay entitled Unpacking My Library, he ruminates on his collection of books as he unpacks them. He finds himself, as he holds each book, inspired by the potential for knowledge and creativity that can be gained through each. It is not so important to Benjamin, as a collector of books, that he has read the majority of books in his library, but that he owns the books and that each represents great potential. He illustrates this idea of collecting and the potential for knowledge, by saying that when a collector “holds” the book “in his hands,” he “seems to be seeing through” the book and into its “distant past as though inspired”. In a similar way, I, too, have a collection of artists that I frequently “unpack” and consider and become inspired by; among them: Caravaggio, Lasker, Marden, Matisse, Nozkowski and Vermeer. Like Benjamin it is not so important that I fully understand the work of each artist but that I live with each in the same intimate way a collector lives with any collection--holding each artist’s images and ideas up for study, reflection and for inspiration.
When I step into the studio each day, I draw upon the artists I’m currently studying and those already forming my “mental art collection.” Because I am always learning, during the painting process my artistic references are in flux and can change. While I am painting I may consider the relationship that one artist has to another or how I like one aspect of a painting from each of these artists. I also think about how these artists have interacted with the heritage of which they have now become a part. For example, I have considered how the hand of Christ in Caravaggio’s painting “The Calling of St. Matthew” is similar to the hand of Adam painted by Michelangelo in “The Creation of Adam” portion of the Sistine Ceiling. I consider issues like these as I paint and try to weave them in as imagery or as referential aspects of my paintings.
In his book entitled, Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom writes, “we keep returning to Shakespeare because we need him; no one else gives us so much of the world most of us take to be fact.” Bloom also claims that writing has been in a decline ever since Shakespeare and that every character developed since Shakespeare is derived from one of his characters, with Hamlet being the greatest of all characters. While I am not ready to make any kind of similar definitive statement about painting (though, there are some similarities that could be drawn from the work of Michelangelo), I am sympathetic to the idea that we are all influenced by past masterpieces and that as painters we are perpetually recycling the same ideas or “characters” in our work.