Claire Sherman’s decorative landscapes offer the explosive joy of youth, which is probably why, five years into her career, she has had solo shows in New York, London and Amsterdam, as well as this, her second show at Kavi Gupta in Chicago. The gallery sales pitch suggests that she is questioning the “historical distinction between abstraction and representation,” as it can be questioned with paintings going back to the Lascaux caves. Other critics have connected her work to the Romantic era and Kant’s notion of the sublime, while it might also be noted that her kind of brush-driven landscape was first developed in Han Dynasty China.
Antiquated as it may be, her work feels as fresh as tomorrow because she’s not looking back. Like Faulkner’s characters in “Wild Palms,” the title she has borrowed for this exhibition, Sherman is exploring her own destiny which, this time around, includes some chthonic visits into enormous caves and a few almost figurative monumental still-lifes.
Though traditional in many ways, the one tradition that’s been avoided is European landscape. There are few shadows, and no clouds or natural light. Her paintings are not windows looking out at the natural world. They are the natural world crashing in and dominating a wall. Rather than following the Impressionist way of breaking down the components of light, Sherman breaks down areas of color into jagged, rectangular patches, the way that computer graphics do. Rather than presenting a specific view, each image feels more like an ideogram.
With its architectural scale, use of brushwork and close-up focus on nature, her work resembles those historic Japanese screens that were shown at the Art Institute two years ago, except that the broken angularity creates an effect that is triumphantly rambunctious rather than contemplatively peaceful. Claire Sherman’s natural world is bustling with the unpredictable energy of scruffy trees that grow through the pavement of abandoned parking lots, making a room full of her work as overwhelming as a landslide. If art galleries were sports arenas, we’d all have to stand up and cheer. (Chris Miller)
Through April 19 at Kavi Gupta Gallery, 835 West Washington