The Yin and Yang of Twenty-First Century Masters
Sherry Markovitz's girls and dolls and Mark Calderon's sculptures of loss and void share the light at Greg Kucera.
By Sheila Farr
The Seattle Times
Outtakes, opinions from Seattle female artists October 7, 2012
Posted by Erika Schultz
The following article is taken from the Seattle Times, May 23, 2008: Sherry Markovitz: “Animating the inanimate” through distinctive art By Sheila Farr
Sherry Markovitz: "Animating the inanimate" through distinctive art
By Sheila Farr
Artist Sherry Markovitz felt moved by the story of Mary Todd Lincoln, one of the saddest women in American history. Mary suffered the death of a child and terrible bouts of depression, which she fended off with compulsive shopping and hoarding. She was at her husband's side at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865, when he was shot in the head at close range. Eventually, Mary died in a mental institution, her mind in turmoil.
Markovitz resurrected Mary, and her love of finery, in a dress of transcendent beauty — a starburst of beads, feathers, flowers, shells, buttons, bangles and fetishes. In this sculptural portrait, the dress is the woman: a vivid mosaic of her frantic needs and the ineffectual accumulation of pretty things she bulwarked against them. The dress stands resplendent, its wearer's outstretched arms perpetually empty. Where the head should be, Markovitz placed a soft cluster of flowers, which she calls "the wilting brain."
Portraiture lies at the heart of Markovitz's artwork, now spotlighted in two solo exhibitions: Sherry Markovitz: Shimmer. Paintings and Sculptures 1979-2007, which opened Thursday at Bellevue Arts Museum, and The True Story at Greg Kucera Gallery in Pioneer Square. Markovitz is best known for the opulently beaded surfaces of her exquisite dolls and trophylike animal heads, and for her spare, evocative paintings. Although she seldom aims to portray a specific person, Markovitz says the figures are a way of getting at an essential truth, of "animating the inanimate." Beauty always plays a star role in the work and adds to the ritualist power of the sculptures.
In the mid-1970s, when Markovitz was in graduate school, minimalism and abstract art were ruling forces. If there was pressure to conform, she didn't notice it. "I was never influenced by the [contemporary] art world," she said earlier this week while installing her BAM retrospective. "My interest has always been in ethnic art, folk art, tribal art, Native American art." For her palette, she scoured flea markets and thrift stores, amassing vintage froufrous, bits of lace, antique dolls, dresses and loads of small shiny objects.
Though she was careful to steer clear of the standard flower, bead and feather hippie aesthetic of the period, Markovitz never had to struggle to find a distinctive way of expressing herself. "I always tried to do what I want to do. I was pretty fierce about that,"Markovitz says. "I was born with a voice. It was always there." That originality brought prompt attention to Markovitz when she began showing at the former Linda Farris Gallery in 1979. In 1985, she had her first shows in New York. Initially, Markovitz says she found the reviews and acclaim awkward: "I'm basically shy."
She first got interested in painting at the age of 8, while attending Hebrew school in Chicago. Her teacher, Sonia Zaks, was a Lithuanian Holocaust survivor who later became a prominent Chicago art dealer. Markovitz remembers visiting Zaks' apartment with her mother and seeing "a real art collection."
By the time she was 14, Markovitz had figured out she not only wanted to make art, but that she needed to. "At some point, my adolescent love experience got too intense," she recalled. "Somehow I figured out it wasn't going to come from another person. ... I needed something that no other person would be able to fulfill. That's where the beadwork comes in. It's soothing."
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in ceramics and art education, Markovitz went on to the University of Washington. There she met fellow art student Peter Millett, now a prominent Seattle sculptor. They both came from Chicago and discovered common likes in art &emdash; though you wouldn't necessarily know it by looking at theirs. Millett's sculptures are abstract and unembellished, while Markovitz's are typically ornate and figurative. "We see things similarly. We do things differently," Markovitz says.
The two have been married for 28 years and have a son, Jacob, who is now at the University of California, Santa Cruz. And yes: He is studying art.
Recently, Markovitz began a series of paintings on unstretched silk, which you can see both at the BAM show and at Kucera. They are simple, ghostly images that hang loose on the wall, gently rippling — perfect counterpoints to the lavish, static sculptures. "I like the freedom these allow, and I like the concentration these allow," the artist says. "There are touches of the paintings in the sculpture and the sculpture in the paintings."
"Sherry Markovitz: Shimmer. Paintings and Sculptures" was organized by Chris Bruce for the Museum of Art at Washington State University in Pullman and will also travel to the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Ore. "I'm happy for the achievement," says Markovitz, 60. "It's a note. It's a big note — but not the final note."
The following article is taken from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 6, 2001:
Markovitz's Dolls Tell More Than A Toy Story by Regina Hackett
The delicacy of dolls is a collective delusion. Unless battered or too ardently loved, they remain robustly new, even after the children who once treasured them have grown up, grown old and died.
Dust may cover dolls in closets, but age cannot wither them, which is part of what makes Sherry Markovitz's paintings of dolls at the Greg Kucera Gallery so compelling.
Like us, her dolls appear to be subject to change. Like us, they seem to have become timid or coarse, radiant or shallow. As projections of our natures, they serve as the emotional equivalent of ventriloquists' dummies. Hence, the show's title, "Throwing Voices."
Seattle's Markovitz hasn't exhibited in Seattle in nearly a decade, although she has continued to show elsewhere, including New York and Los Angeles. In Seattle, she is best known for her beaded animal heads that also are painted and may be festooned with buttons, feathers, fake pearls; shells, sequins, glass hearts and artificial flowers. She also is famed for the blizzard of similar materials encrusting the three-dimensional bodies of dolls, parts of dolls and gourds.
From the queen of ornament, these paintings in watercolor, gouache, pencil, ink and egg tempera on paper might come as a shock, because they are rigorously spare. While her sculptures anchor the present moment with blunt grace, the figures in her paintings float free on cloudy mixtures of memory.
Some push forward to achieve specific detail, while others recede into semi-erasure.
The "Three Graces" (36 inches high by 47 inches wide) look as if they are barely out of childhood. Inside their permanent youth, these ash-blue and peach-colored girls are strangely aged. They project the air of shaky old women who fear falling. To cushion them against this possibility, Markovitz gave them a cloud of white cotton to lean against, and yet none of them do, maintaining instead a stiff verticality. Above them, a white rabbit, symbol of enlightenment, dozes fitfully as blue streaked with pale gold makes a sky and invites all these figures who are paying no attention to star in it.
"Family" (36 inches high by 45 inches wide) features a vivid little doll head in the lower left corner. Innocent as she looks, her dreams produce monsters: the three lurching id figures hanging above her. "Family" is a painting about consciousness folded the wrong way and buckling out of place -- the good girl going against the grain for the fierce pleasure of causing trouble.
"Mexican Purple" (36 inches high by 52 inches wide) is a luminous shade, eroded into barely colored light. In it, three dolls' heads make an odd, irregular triangle. In their self-absorption, they are unaware of the pale force field of color connecting them and also unaware of the leering form on the lower right. It's a puddle face, melted or stripped to its essence. Having devoured one girl (leaving only a pair of black braids), it rests before taking on her sisters.
In figurative paintings, rhythm unlocks character. For Markovitz, rhythm is character. The Mortimer of "Mortimer and Friends" (42 inches high by 54 1/2 inches wide) is fast, loose and out of control. Taking no pains with his appearance, he is surrounded by dolls that are all appearance -- tight as tics or disappearing into despair. He's a dandy of detachment, Eustace Tilley on the skids. They're past their prime and taking their lost looks to heart. Their sorrow and his sloppy wit are counterpoint harmonies for a rich and sour tune.
"Mary Todd" is a toddler-size doll with faded cloth flowers instead of a head, the only sculpture in the exhibit. Its presence helps mark the boundaries of Markovitz's aesthetic concerns, and shows how closely they are related. Both encrusted sculpture and lean painting give form to feeling, projecting voices that are seen instead of heard.
Critic John Russell once observed that Cubism was the watershed art movement of the 20th century. Now that the century's over, it's easy to see that he was wrong. There was no watershed movement, but the closest thing to it was Surrealism. It is the soil for everything from Abstract and Neo-Expressionism to Pop and even some forms of Minimalism, from Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol to Bruce Nauman, David Hammons and Kiki Smith. Markovitz's work is more evidence, if more were needed, of how rich a vein that early 20th-century form remains.
The following article is taken from the Seattle Times, April 5, 2001:
Visual Arts April gallery walk features Markovitz by Sheila Farr
Sherry Markovitz fans get a special treat - a show of her new paintings at the Greg Kucera Gallery. This is the artist's first show in her hometown since 1992. Best known here for her iconic, beaded animal heads, Markovitz has bypassed the Seattle scene for New York in recent years. Now she's back, and these new paintings should prove to be as intriguing and disconcerting as the earlier work.
Markovitz paints on paper with various water-based media, and the imagery grows out of her fascination with dolls, masks, dummies and assorted stuffed animals. She says that the paintings, based on what she refers to as collective memory, "came out of a sense of urgency, as a dream poking through the unconscious to deliver a message. ... It is important that these works not be nostalgic or sentimental, yet offer a departure point for all of us to remember as we face the future."
In 1999, Seattle artist Sherry Markovitz began a series of works on paper, some smaller, but most around 3 x 4 feet in size. These paintings are created with various gouache, egg-tempera and water-based paints on translucent architectural drafting paper cut from a roll.
The imagery is derived from the artists own ongoing collection of dolls, dummies, masks, figurines and stuffed animals. Most of these are personal symbols for Markovitz, but their familiar iconography help make the work accessible to most viewers while still resisting specific meaning. This body of work exhibits Markovitzs prescient ability for tapping into archetypal images of childhood dreams, fears and desires that may still be manifest in our adult lives.
Viewed as supplements to the figure, Markovitz uses clothing, body adornment, costumes and masks to question how we construct images of the self. For example, an image of a wedding dress doesnt simply mark the occasion, it may also question the transition to womanhood it supposedly represents. That the wedding dress can easily be confused with a dolls clothing only helps to complicate the issue and make it a richer visual experience.
Sherry Markovitz was born in 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. She received her BA in Ceramics and Art Education from the University of Wisconsin, and her MFA in Printmaking from the University of Washington. Her work is in the permanent collections of The American Craft Museum, New York; The Corning Museum of Glass, New York; Dow Jones Collection, New York; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina; and The Seattle Art Museum, Seattle.