Pictures from Rome
These large-scale encaustic paintings portray themes from Roman mythology, history, art history, and cinema. Together they form a striking and enigmatic narrative.
Having grown up in the 1950s, a golden era for Hollywood Greek and Roman “spectacular” films, Scherman has long been fascinated by the history and mythology of Ancient Rome. In Pictures from Rome, he depicts various stories and ideas of Rome throughout its imagined history. Some explore ideas of the Fall of Rome. In The Last Mussel, a decadent table is spread with shellfish that is empty or decaying except for one mussel in its shell, alluding to the last flash of Roman decadence before it was sacked. Baptism of Pan shows the hooves of the pagan god Pan immersed in turbulent water, baptized and neutered during the Christianization of Rome.
Other works focus on figures, and employ conventions of cinema in their shortening of space and close-up framing. These are more than just portraits—nearly every figure is in a narrative moment. Mary Magdalene appears to be listening intently, or just on the verge of speaking. Venus in Cicero’s Pool is clearly looking at something “off-screen.” The framing creates an imminence in each work that links them together, allowing the viewer to fill in stories in different ways.
To create these sensuous works, Scherman employs the ancient and meticulous technique of encaustic. The practice requires him to slowly build up layers of pigment and wax, and to work quickly on the surface of each layer before it cools and dries. The practice is at once methodical and spontaneous. Many works are classical in their compositions, evoking chiaroscuro effects of Old Master paintings, yet the handling of the media is more akin to Modernist abstraction. The subjects are always in the process of appearing, emerging from borderless, dark backgrounds and against abstract, splattered surfaces. This sense of emergence echoes the imminence found in each composition as they speak to each other across the gallery walls.