Roman Holiday1989 by Honoré Sharrer

Having garnered critical attention for her post-WWII painting series, "Tribute to the American Working People," Sharrer opted to stay with figural painting when the art world turned toward abstraction (a fickleness she skewers in several of her line drawings).
Yet her color-intoxicated oils dating from 1971-2005, in which she wittily explores an aesthetic of magical realism, are well worth a second, third, and fourth look (in fact, I could hardly tear my eyes away). Sharrer not only seamlessly elides the everyday with the fantastic and conflates the mythic past with the present, she also changes up painting styles and, amazingly, shifts spatial planes within the same image.

For example, in "Roman Landscape," a shadow-casting pink arch carved with bas relief stands in front of a flattened, almost wallpaper-like olive-green landscape. Electric lights festoon the ancient portico, and a motorcycle sits beside it. A fleshy nude woman, arse framed by the arch, moons viewers, while a cymbal-holding nymph, breasts upturned, lies on top of the structure. Meanwhile, a cartoon-ish man on the left looks elsewhere as he dances in turquoise jeans and orange socks beneath a floating, seemingly three-dimensional red cloak (reminiscent of Renaissance paintings).
Sharrer's compositions frequently make wry observations about relationships between the sexes. Men and women occupy the same space without truly engaging each other, clothed men humorously remaining oblivious to the proximity of nude women.
Throughout her work, Sharrer includes cryptic bits of personal symbolism such as cigarette butts, one-shoed figures, contorted forks, crockery, birds, and funny small dogs. And everywhere there is intense color used to sensational effect.

...One prevalent theme is Sharrer’s use of the female nude, as in Afternoon of the Satyr (1989) and Roman Landscape (1990). Her take on the female body is at once Classical and provocatively realistic. She paints pale and curvaceous female figures, reminiscent of Rubens, with the type of sturdy thighs that would send R. Crumb into a panic. Yet, her use of dimpled skin, provocative and awkward poses, and contrast with the other imagery in the scenes rips the figures away from a mythic or sexual context, shining a light instead on the way women are seen in society.

Many of Sharrer’s paintings of this period are slyly funny—though Sharrer wasn’t going for the cheap laugh but rather a deeper satirical commentary. Brigham notes that Melissa Wolfe, the curator of American art at the Saint Louis Museum of Art and a co-curator of the exhibition, describes Sharrer as having a “slant view.” “We don’t want to diminish her by just seeing the jokes in her work,” says Brigham. “The slant view, the absurdity, is where Sharrer drives a wedge into power and into gender inequality. That’s what the force of the work is.”
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