In Her Studio
When I first discovered Kerri Scharlin’s work in the 1990s I was fascinated, like many others, by her bold outsourcing of production, by her boundary-defying engagement with non-art fields (the legal system, the entertainment industry) and by her willingness to open up her life to public view. Looking back at her work I’m struck at its prophetic, predictive aspects. The end of privacy, the fusion of art and entertainment, the redefinition of identity as a brand of performative faux celebrity—all these facts of 21st-century existence are present and problematized in the work Scharlin made in the waning years of the 20th century. It was the exemplary nature of Scharlin’s early work that inspired me to include her in my book The Miraculous, an exploration of conceptual and performance art (completed in the early 2000s, though not published until 2014).
And now Scharlin is back, re-emerging via a different medium (painting) and with a different subject (other people instead of herself) but just as compelling artistically. At the heart of Scharlin’s recent work are her paintings and drawings of contemporary women artists in their studios. Noteworthy for their incisive lines and fearless colors, these images grew out of the shock Scharlin felt when she began venturing back into the art world after many years of isolation in her studio. It was so much bigger; there were so many new artists. To help make sense of this transformed landscape she started to create portraits of artists in their studios. Based on photographs found in art magazines and online, these studio scenes are a record of Scharlin’s enthusiasms; they are also a celebration of the growing recognition given to women artists, and a reminder of how relatively invisible women artists have been in the past. Alongside the studio pictures, Scharlin makes frieze-like “Strips,” which offer a running commentary on the contradictions and confusions of the world outside the studio.
In the process of offering us an extensive iconographic catalogue of contemporary women artists--painters, mostly--Scharlin reveals herself as a daring colorist in the spirit of Jacob Lawrence and Hans Hofmann, and as a wonderful painter of paintings-within-paintings. Perhaps not since Matisse has an artist filled their work with so many representations of paintings. Although the subjects of the “In Her Studio” works are never of the artist herself, it’s easy to surmise that Scharlin is drawing deeply on her own experience, on her years of working alone in her studio. As at the beginning her career, Scharlin’s work is a meditation on identity, on the boundaries of the self, on the uncertain zone where art and life converse.
-Raphael Rubinstein, January 2019