Interview: Katherine Sherwood

 

 

 

Katherine Sherwood creates sumptuous paintings that visualize, in a lyrical and esoteric fashion, the age old metaphysical concerns of the body, life after death, and the tenuous relationship between art and science. Sherwood’’s works exhibit a Buddhist, Zen-like approach to color, form and composition, elegantly balanced and unafraid of both dense areas of joyous, swirling patterns and passages of silent, empty space. Just below the seemingly abstract planes is a latent structure of corporeal diagrams, such as angiograms, brittle tree-like linear nerve endings, and mystical Solomon’s seal, lending the paintings a religious, even ecstatic talisman-like quality. 

 

SL: Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? 

 

KS: t’s delightfully long and full of solitude. I work flat, spend months making the grounds, adhere the archival digital prints and then paint sometimes for years. 

 

SL: Many of your works incorporate mixed media, including collaged circles of printed rice paper. Many of the pieces evoke a tactile, sumptuous handling of paint—what effect does material play in the aesthetics of your work? 

 

KS: When I first saw the images of a cerebral angiogram of the arterial system of my brain they reminded me of the Southern Sung Dynasty landscape painting. 

When I started to incorporate the angiograms into my work I realized that I was mimicking them with paint- as do roots, branches of trees and the curlicues in Solomon’s seals. 

 

SL: How do you go about creating a work? 

 

KS: It is part ancestor worship, part mistakes, a lot of talking to the dead and meditating, considerable cover-ups and then hopefully resolution. I choose a treasured person who has passed, then find an appropriate Solomon’s seal for that person whose intention is most in accordance with them. I base my composition of part of that seal. 

 

SL: In the press release for your recent exhibition, it stated that these works are all united through their use of “neurons as a motif and metaphor….embodying the processes of thought, memory, emotion and body movement.” How do you view this unique symbolism as metaphor within your work? 

 

KS: At first I made paintings that used the circulatory system in my own heart, neck and brain as basic elements of construction. About 3 years ago I turned my attention to the nervous system and specifically to the history of western neuro-anatomy. I started with images from Vesalius’s view of the nervous system from the 16th.century and often combined them with 21st. century technology. 

I am particularly fascinated by Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s ink drawings of neurons at the turn of the 20th.century in my latest work. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1906 for his beautiful drawings of neurons. He always wanted to be an artist but his doctor father forbade it. He is the only anatomist that I have found that did his own drawings. 

 

SL: Within your paintings, you use 17th century magic seals (believed to be pictures of spirits) with scientific images not typically discernable to the naked eye: angiograms, brain scans, etc. Can you describe your interest in the intersection between esoteric diagrams and corporeal imagery? How do the two function when placed in dialogue with one another? 

 

KS:The seals represent the spirits that King Solomon from the Old Testament harnessed to bring him his wisdom, fame and fortune. I use the symbolic rendering of them. Solomon was equally respected by the Islamic and Judaic world. He was disabled- a hunchback. The spirits were used to answer questions and provide assistance. They were conduits for desire. I have been incorporating them into my work for fifteen years now. At first my attraction was purely aesthetic/ calligraphic until my cerebral hemorrhage. I knew from the instant I saw my cerebral angiogram on the computer screen that I would use my brain blood that had ruptured in conjunction with the seals, specifically the ones with healing powers. 

 

SL: Before technological imaging & photography, artists were employed to hand-render illustrations of the natural world, the body, etc. How do you see the relation between artistic and scientific practices with relation to your work? 

 

KS: That question has been a central focus of this body of work. The advent of the digital process in brain imaging has eliminated the hand of the artist. What happens when the artist comes at the end of the process rather than the middle, when the emphasis is on interpretation rather than observation and imitation? 

 

SL: In conflating these two visual strategies (neurological imagery and magic emblems), in many ways you are also implicating the body, and on a higher level, the age-old religious question regarding notions of the soul, destiny, chance, mortality…do you feel your works, on some level, address these metaphysical concerns? 

 

KS: Yes. Absolutely. I hope so. The purpose of this body of work is to reapply the use of such images towards an exploration of the spiritual vis-à-vis medical imaging technologies. Then, on the other hand, many viewers read them as abstract paintings and that’s OK too. 

 

SL: What other artists are you currently looking at? 

 

KS: Emma Kunz, Emory Blagdon, James Castle and Qiu Shihua. 

 

SL: For those interested in further exploring your work and its conceptual framework, can you recommend some texts, images, songs to look into? 

 

KS: Lemegeton- The Complete Lesser Key of Solomon 

The Beatus Leibana 

The Conference of the Birds by Farid Ad Din Attar 

 

To view more of Katherine Sherwood’s work, go to: 

Katherine Sherwood 

Or visit: Gallery Paule Anglim 

Image Credits: 

Images courtesy of the artist and Gallery Paule Anglim 

CIA Genes 
2006 
archival digital pigment print 
Edition of 10 
28” x 36” 

Attracts Business 
2004 
mixed media on canvas 
28” x 24” 

Shape of People 
2006 
mixed media on canvas 
52” x 72” 

Teaches Literature 
2003-04 
mixed media on canvas 
28” x 24” 

Martiniland 
2000 
mixed media on canvas 
58” x 66” 

Vesalius’s Pump 
2006 
mixed media on canvas 
36” x 36” 

Transports Instantaneously 
2007 
mixed media on canvas 
72” x 72” 

Firmer Spirit 
2006 
archival digital pigment print 
Edition of 10 
40” x 32” 

Hush, Hush 
2006 
archival digital pigment print 
Edition of 10 
30” x 38” 

Cajal’s Revenge 
2007 
mixed media on canvas 
64” x 50”