Walter Maciel Gallery – Katherine Sherwood: The Interior of the Yelling Clinic

March 3-April 28, 2018


Katherine Sherwood has had a longstanding interest in brain structure as holographic paradigm. In the early 1990s, she began incorporating imagery of the human brain, along with satellite imagery, as motifs in her painting. Although thematically different, both kinds of imagery appeared as forms of abstraction, while actually presenting representational documentation of real scientific subjects.

Sherwood’s fascination with the brain became profoundly personal in 1997 when she experienced a massive stroke, leaving her right side paralyzed. Six months later, she went to the hospital for a cerebral angiogram. Seated on a gurney, she was riveted by the arterial images of her own brain displayed on the computer screen. They reminded her of Southern Song dynasty Chinese landscape paintings. Explaining she was an artist, she requested copies of the images. The radiologist gave her a full set, which she has put to excellent use ever since.



Sherwood never regained the use of her right hand, eventually learning to paint with her left. She adapted her process, working with larger brushes in a looser style and increasing the scale of her paintings. The Bay Area artist had often used symbols in her work; now she has expanded her use of symbolism, almost inventing a new mythology in which autobiographical allusion, art historical references and brain imagery are ever-recurring elements, if not fixtures.

Re-appropriating the odalisques— as painted by Ingres, Manet, Goya and other male painters—Sherwood re-visualizes them from a contemporary feminine point of view, infused with her own narrative. Replete with sub-text, Sherwood’s Venuses are painted on the flip sides of found composite linen rectangles featuring reproductions of classic paintings, once used for teaching art history. Tiled together, the backs of the reproductions are marked with the names of the artists—Dürer, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Turner, etc. —left visible on the textile ground of her work. Humor and pathos entwine as Sherwood superimposes the faces of her odalisques with MRI scans of her own brain. Furthermore, her Venuses are decorated with leg braces, canes and prosthetic devices.

In her accompanying series, Brain Flowers, Sherwood reinterprets the classic still life trope with beguiling brain scans popping out from the bouquets, unexpectedly disguised as flowers.

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