New Memes/Old Memes:
Steve Sherrell at 33 Collective Gallery
Zhou B. Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St., Chicago 60609

reviewed by Felissia Cappelletti (November, 2009)

33 Collective is a multi-leveled art studio space exhibiting many eclectic styles. Concrete floors and walls give the space an industrial feel while the colorful and eccentric art warms the gallery halls. Member works are featured in turn in the gallery. This month's feature is lifetime artist and professor of figure drawing and computer art at Joliet Junior College, Steve Sherrell. The solo exhibition was held in the back corner of the building but rather than feeling isolated, the back room has the benefit of floor to roof windows, framing his show in warm light as seen from outside.

Sherrell's exhibit spans 21 years of his oeuvre, from 1988 through the present, and incorporates a spectrum of his past techniques, advertising his long and evolutionary career as a constantly experimental artist. The memes Sherrell is referring to here are more than just the absurd fascinations of his subjects, but also those of his career. The oldest pieces on display are simple in style, solid in color and abstract in subject. They set the mood for the rest of the exhibit by representing the state of silent ambivalence Sherrell is playing with. His pieces say very little by themselves for wont of detail and context and so invite his audience to build their own layers atop the foundation of the often abstract landscapes they provide.

Davero (2009) Steve Sherrell

The collection is embodied by mixed media -- mostly oils, acrylics, screen printing and digital images on masonite or paper. A light wood frame was used for some pieces, others being left unframed. Many had a collage-like affect, though simple, that varied from comic book dissections to various ink transfers to digital manipulations. The works often had a single subject, the meanings of which were kept ambiguous, but intriguing. A 2' x 3' painting of a baby's pacifier in calm pastel tones, covered in a texture rich lacquer, seems to stare you right in the face, begging you to consider it in unfearful meticulousness. What is the importance of a pacifier? What needs pacifying? Its strange sexual undertones taunting, meanwhile. If not one single, simple subject, than multiple symbols and images were used in equally emphatic asymmetry in haphazard disarray, engaging the viewer with many possible roads of interpretive travel.

Among his contemporary work is a white-washed mix of arrows, airplanes and bozo the clown, the intention of which is to fling you into a mental flurry of wonder, and, that failing, will at least leave the viewer charmed, albeit confused. Other works are more realized, including a large scale piece with drips flowing both up and down. Elsewhere, a photograph layered with subtle painterly affects portrays a graffitied window from Florence. There are also pieces of absolute abstraction incorporating a crackling effect with a clear medium and the curious whimsy of slightly abnormal surface shape -- that is, Sherrell cuts small divots into the sides of his masonite, so the audience is not held captive in a perfect rectangle. This compliments his style and message in its blatantly but not overwhelmingly deconstructivist manner.

This work is meant to taunt and tantalize. Sherrell himself admits that these works have been chosen not for their stylistic or subjective similarities, but by the response they illicit: surprise, intrigue, and a visceral experience. Bright, bold colors and large brush strokes where brush strokes are present, next to unfamiliar image juxtapositions has the striking effect of a voice mumbling some delicious secret to whomever passes by. The viewer is asked to have fun and enjoy painting's engaging side without sacrificing meaning or pathos.

--The End --