In his new exhibition titled “Difficult Women” Montreal artist Tony Scherman urges us to look through a different prism at how society categorizes women.
The larger than life paintings of women as diverse in time and context as a Salem witch, Margret Thatcher, Rosa Parks to Malala Yousafzai raises the uncomfortable question why patriarchal societies are threatened by women that are seen as not being subject to control and therefore as being “difficult”.
This is indeed a timely exhibition as Canadians engage in a far reaching examination of female-male relationships whether it is in the context of an under-privileged aboriginal woman hitch hiking the lonely roads of British Columbia or of a well educated, privileged professional woman in a giant media organization in Toronto.
Using the technique of encaustic painting in which pigment and oil paint infused melted wax are combined and slapped on to the canvas. The cooled wax is shaped using heat lamps, heat guns, hot objects such as irons and special brushes. Scherman builds up the layers of each painting highlighting and obscuring, simplifying and complicating, and in the end leaving it up to the viewer to resolve the painting and their feelings towards it.
Scherman demonstrates his mastery of the art by startling the viewer with the ability that encaustic painting permits of rich layering that creates a sense of depth and vibrancy on the finished surface which is unachievable with water colour or oil.
The method of encaustic painting was used in the early post Christian period by Greeks and Romans for portraits and decorative panels and then forgotten. This art form which was revived in the 1950’s by Jasper Johns has been taken to a completely different level by Scherman who has been experimenting and perfecting this ancient method of mixing oil paints, pigment and wax. The technique requires lighting fast application of the pigmented wax on to the stretched canvass with only the ability to make minor changes with a hot iron. Critics have variously described Scherman’s work as being “subtle”, “startling”, “elegant” and “gritty”.
My favourite is the sombre and yet uplifting portrait of Malala Yousafzai (left) whose inclined head is partially covered with a shawl. The largest canvass is a seven by six foot painting of an enigmatic Simone de Beauvoir. An almost equally large picture of Margaret Thatcher lips pursed in harsh admonishment captures the iron lady in her heyday.
Scherman has previously dealt with historical subjects and events such as the October Crisis and Pierre Trudeau’s response, Napoleon, the French Revolution, Abraham Lincoln, the scourge of new world slavery, the War Between the States, and Hitler’s sex life.
Scherman obtained his Masters degree from the Royal Academy of Art in London, England. Before to restricting himself to the wax medium he has worked in other mediums, taught, lectured travelled the world and exhibited his work.
Tony Scherman: “Difficult Women” continues at Georgia Scherman Projects until January 31, 2015. The Gallery is located at 133 Tecumseh Street, one block west of Bathurst Street and one block north of King Street in Toronto.
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Viresh Fernando is an itinerant writer, lawyer and chartered accountant based in Toronto, Canada.