By Tom Wachunas
“What I mean by 'abstract' is something which comes to life spontaneously through a gamut of contrasts, plastic at the same time as psychic, and pervades both the picture and the eye of the spectator with conceptions of new and unfamiliar elements...” -Marc Chagall
Exhibit: Acrylic Paintings by Sherri Hornbrook, THROUGH MARCH 2, in the Studio M Gallery of The Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon. (330) 833-4061 www.massillonmuseum.com
Before walking all the way into the gallery, stand for a little while just a few feet in, and scan the whole room. Left to right, right to left or center to peripheries – makes no difference. Don’t make it an exercise in “picking favorites”, but rather “read” the whole space. Take its pulse. Feel its heartbeat. IT’S ALIVE.
Next, try seeing the 21 abstract acrylic paintings on the walls collectively as a visual essay – or better, a poem - of ebullient, exclamatory nature. Then, consider each individual painting as an integral yet discrete stanza, constructed around one or more adjectives, so to speak, stated in the superlative degree.
These poetic “adjectives” might be manifest as dominant, fluorescently colored shapes and linear elements, as in Strength; the amoeba-like dark contour in Protection; or floating clusters of vibrant, gestural curves of red in Wholeness.
Further still, Sherri Hornbrook is something of an archaeologist with a remarkably probing and flexible paintbrush. Her pictures are painterly records of discovery, and otherwise lavish expositions of entwined visual strata that rise from an intuitive process. Embedded in many of them, like so many “fossils,” are the layered histories of their making – transparent and opaque shapes, thick trails of brush marks or ghostly washes of undulating color that in turn support more substantial, organic structures.
From the perspective of iconography, Hornbrook’s statement for the show is friendly to those viewers who might want to look for identifiable representations. And to varying degrees, some of her paintings are suggestive of real world imagery – figurative, botanical, biological and, in a few instances, architectural. But generally, these aren’t sharply delineated references so much as they’re fleeting echoes or misty memories.
A particularly engaging aspect of Holbrook’s technique is her sensitivity to textures and the reflective qualities of the paint. Many of the images employ a playful back-and-forth shifting between configurations of glossy and matte finishes. The resulting spatial tensions create fluctuating dimensionalities within the picture plane.
With this collection, Holbrook has laid out a visual gestalt that harmonizes with a viable definition of art that I often offer to my students of art appreciation/history: Art is an intentional, human-made response to being alive.
It’s a sweeping definition, to be sure, but one which nonetheless fits the tantalizing vitality and scope of Holbrook’s aesthetic. She’s wholly alive to her perceptions of the world and the capacity of art to illuminate realities seen and unseen, physical and ethereal, minute and mighty. For all of the sophisticated pictorial mechanisms at work here, what’s most exciting is Hornbrook’s commitment to raw spontaneity. Call it a child-like infatuation with seeing. In that respect, may she never grow up.
PHOTOS (from top): Strength; Standstill; Protection; Gateway; Wholeness