Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sherry Karver: Art and Life in the City

Add San Francisco artist Sherry Karver to your list of artists to watch. I discovered her work through one of the eNewsletters I receive called ArtsyShark.

EN: According to your artist statement you've always lived in big cities. You were born in Chicago. Did you grow up there as a kid? What are the pros and cons of being an artist in the city?
Sherry Karver: Yes, I was born and raised in Chicago until I went away to college. It was a wonderful experience growing up there, and I would move back in a minute if it was just a bit warmer in the winter! The pros of living in a large city were that I attended the Art Institute of Chicago classes as a kid, and got to explore the museum and downtown every weekend. I could take the ‘El’ train by myself (those were the days when kids could safely be outside alone), and hang out on my block or on the beach with friends. Can’t think of any cons – I guess I’m just a big city girl!

EN: How did you end up in San Francisco?
SK: I ended up in Oakland (across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco) in a bit of a ‘circuitous’ route. I got my B.A. in Sociology from Indiana University, then opened a pottery shop under the ‘El” in Chicago for 4 years, then moved to New Orleans for grad school and got my MFA at Tulane. After that I got a 2 year teaching position at San Diego State University which brought me to California, then a 3 year position at Chico State University in Northern CA. This was a small town so I knew I had to leave, and the Bay Area was the logical choice. I was tired of following university teaching jobs and decided to settle where I wanted to be and where the weather was nice. Had friends in Berkeley and the rest is history.

EN: Your current work blends photography, digital technology, painting and narrative text. How did this process evolve? I find it quite evocative.
SK: My photo-based work with narrative text evolved out of my ceramic wall sculpture. I know that must sound odd, but I was a ceramic artist for 20 years, doing figurative 2D work that I painted and epoxied to boards. At one point I started to leave more and more clay sections off the boards and paint directly on the board. Eventually I left all clay off! About that time I got a computer and Photoshop, and since I had always done a bit of photography I started to explore that more. It was a gradual transition. Although I still teach ceramics part-time, I no longer exhibit that work, but would like to have a ‘retrospective’ someday where I show both ceramic wall sculpture and my photo-based work together.

EN: Your current work blends photography, digital technology, painting and narrative text. How did this process evolve? I find it quite evocative.
SK: I began writing text on some of the figures in my photos as a way to give characters their own voice, since we all have a story to tell. By writing little fictional ‘biographies’ on the figures it makes them stand out from the crowd – a theme that has always been important in my work. The idea came to me when I printed a photo from the newspaper and the text came through from behind because the paper was so thin. I hadn’t noticed that before. In most cases I write in third person, giving a description of what I think somebody is like – what they do for a living, their age, their hopes, dreams, fears, etc., and often something embarrassing or funny that they wouldn’t want anyone to know. This is all fictional! In some instances I write in first person, getting into the head of what the character is thinking.

EN: One of your previous shows was titled Figuratively Speaking? What was the primary thread that held those pieces together and what attracted you to that theme?
SK: The show title “Figuratively Speaking” was a play on words. Since my work is figurative, and I have text on several individuals in each piece, it is as if the figures are speaking, or thinking, at least metaphorically. It was also a little humorous and I like to have humor in my work too. The thread that holds most all of my work together is the concept of the crowd, and how we can stand out and find our own unique voice – something I try to do myself.

EN: You've lived in a number of cities, including Chicago, New York and New Orleans. Is SF a final stop on your American life journey or do you envision more moves?
SK: Yes, I’ve lived in a number of cities but will most likely stay in Oakland since I have an amazing huge studio here. My husband, writer Jerry Ratch and I bought the Rockridge Women’s Club a number of years ago and converted it to a live/work space. I have 25’ ceilings, huge windows, and great light. But, we would like to figure out how to live in New York half the time or at least a few months of the year. That would be ideal! New York is the only other place I have a desire to live in.

EN: I enjoyed your Amusement Park Series and the Light Box & Plexiglas Series. Tell us about the Surveillance Series.
SK: RE: my Surveillance series. In this series I am using both downloaded photos from public Internet Webcams in different parts of the world, and images from airport x-ray screening machines as the sources for my photo-based oil paintings and suitcase installation. In this current period of our history, the idea of constant surveillance has taken on new meaning and urgency. It raises many questions: Is big brother watching us? Is it for our own protection? Are we really voyeurs, and how far will it all go? To some it may seem like an invasion of their privacy, and to others, it may add a feeling of security, especially after 9/11. I am not trying to answer these larger questions myself, but rather to use these images within a fine art context, regardless of what their political implications might be.

EN: Last question: why is art still important in our contemporary world?
SK: I would like to think that art is still important in our contemporary world. I certainly hope so. There are many people exploring different artistic mediums, some of which weren’t around fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. Art changes, but it is still a means of self-expression and creativity that goes back to cave painting days. It is unfortunate that art programs have been so drastically cut from elementary and high schools, as it’s been proven that they help students think, develop motor skills, right brain activity, and express themselves in different ways.

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Follow Sherry Karver's career by bookmarking her website and noting what's new at

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Dig it.

1 comment:

Shari P. said...

Sherry's work is literally a one-of-a-kind artist! NO one does what she does ! Fantastic!!!