T O N Y S C H E R M A N
"Look for the brightest light and the darkest shadow," enjoined Manet. Among contemporary painters, Scherman is no doubt one of the closest to the creator of Olympia - their common passion for flowers, their search for the darkest shadow and the brightest light.
- Jacques Henric
Landau Contemporary is proud to present an online exhibition of works by Canadian artist Tony Scherman.
Scherman is best known for his masterful encaustic technique, where pigment and wax combine to create lush, textured, and dramatic surfaces. His large-scale portraits and still lifes are carefully imbued with a dream-like intensity through the visceral quality of this sophisticated media which creates a simultaneous sense of softness and depth.
During his time at the Royal College of Art in London, Scherman suffered from painter’s block and when a tutor suggested he try a radically different approach, he turned to encaustic, a first-century, hot-wax-based technique that was popular in Ancient art but was rarely used by modern or contemporary artists because it presented two main practical challenges: the hot wax sets quickly and permanently, and it can burn.
Everything I did, I learned myself. Some of [my paintings] take three, four years. Not constantly, I work on several paintings at once, put them away, bring them back out again, so that they build up.
- Tony Scherman
Scherman began by experimenting with the genre of still life as a way of understanding its traditions, and this interest along with his fascination for European art history has remained a constant in his oeuvre. However, John Bentley Mays, the notable art critic from the Globe, once wrote that no one in Toronto could paint a better teapot than Scherman. The implication was that the artist was wasting his universally acknowledged technical skill on trivial or banal subjects.
In this regard, Mays statement was true, Scherman's early exhibitions featured works of table scenes with elaborate place settings; a later exhibition featured still lifes. In the early 1980s, he began experimenting with abstraction, melding it with the still life subject. These works were stoic compositions of a traditional subject matter imbued with contemporary resonance. His work has since maintained a representational style, executed in luscious, heavily layered, dripped and scored encaustic.
In the 1990s, his focus shifted to portraiture. In using, and indeed perfecting, the tricky medium of encaustic, Scherman has pushed this process of moving from reality to illusion and back again to a new kind of frontier.
"The face fills the entire space of the canvas and the use of wax allows the artist to build up a heavily textured surface much like the bumps and wrinkles that are characteristic of human skin. The result is very impressive.”
- Mary Reid, former Curator of Contemporary Art and Photography at the Winnipeg Art Gallery
Picture for a Tired Armchair, 1981
What's uncanny about his portraits is the sense that he’s conjured them from the beyond. That they’re in the room. Scherman noted in an interview: “I first understood the nature of portraiture after I…walked around a show at the Tate. They were watching me. What’s required is that the person in the painting interrogate me, that he be looking at me, not the reverse. If there’s not a thought-bearing being in the painting, then you’ve failed.”
As Young Santa Claus emerges from the darkness, the figure's ambiguous expression defiantly fills the pictorial plane and in whose details we come to see him as a young man and not a fictional character; he is de-mystified.
Scherman has pushed the process of moving from reality to illusion and back again to a new kind of frontier; we experience both the brushstrokes and dribbles of pigment and wax, but also a highly realistic depiction of a face. Scherman has created an eternal puzzle and a fascination for us to think about and revel in.
"I rarely use symbolism consciously. Would I use a white dove in a painting to symbolize peace? No, I wouldn’t. What interests me more is the idea that the painting signifies it’s opposite and that’s why it’s hard to look at sometimes."
Most of Scherman’s recent work is in series, focusing on well-researched historical events, pop culture or literary references. The following works predate these narrative series, but in many ways relies on the same methods of pictorial display that Scherman is now known for.
Grouped together, They Train Them Young and The Colour of Sand create their own narrative that requires the viewer's interaction and interpretation.
This is thanks to the artist’s technical ability, his facility with his hands and his drive for perfection that forces him to return to his works and build on them until he is satisfied or reinterpret them on new canvases. He is one of the most provocative practitioners of this intricate, messy and challenging art form.
Scherman's large-scale encaustic paintings portray themes that taken together form a striking and enigmatic narrative. Each figure is caught in a moment, as the close-up or cropped framing creates imminence in each work, allowing the viewer to fill in their stories.
Scherman's subjects are always in the process of appearing, emerging from borderless, often dark, backgrounds and against abstract, splattered surfaces, and this sense of emergence echos the imminence of the artist, always on the verge of discovery as the painting builds.
"I don’t paint. I follow myself painting. My consciousness isn’t painting. My consciousness is watching myself paint. I just follow myself."
- Tony Scherman
Born in Toronto and educated at the Byam School of Painting and Drawing and the Royal College of Art, London, Tony Scherman is one of a handful of Canadian artists to have established an international following.
Scherman employs the seductive medium of encaustic with the same deftness as Jasper Johns and Brice Marden in the creation of his textual constructs. His narrative is presented through colours bled into others, lines amended and forms ‘liquified into shadow” to confuse our expectations and permit a multiplicity of readings.
Scherman works in series. He frequently engages mythological and historical subjects that are often paralleled with a current sociological perspective. Like such Anglo-American painters as Bruce McLean, Eric Fischl, David Salle and David Bates, Scherman constructs his narrative by sequentially linking together each painting to the text, creating a corpus of work where the sum of the parts is often greater than the whole.
From the Cover of Toronto Life March 2007
"I look at [my painting] and its an aggregate of mistakes that somehow adds up to a stab at the real. Occasionally I do a thin painting, one that somehow I had the guts to leave alone. At a particular moment, I saw something that was more valuable than what I might get if I go down a road I know so well, which is the one of toil and accident. I actually think I’m trying to paint a painting of a painting that’s already there. And the only painting that would be worth repainting would be one that was wonderfully executed."
- Tony Scherman
Select Notable Public Collections
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton
Art Gallery of Great Victoria, Victoria
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa
Canada Department of External Affairs, Ottawa
Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal
McMaster University, Hamilton
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal
Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto
Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg
The Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham
Cornell University, Ithaca
Denver Museum of Art, Denver
Library of Congress, Washington
Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles
Sand Diego Museum, San Diego
Arts Council of Great Britain, London
Contemporary Arts Society, London
Le Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Paris
Royal College of Art, London
Schlossmuseum Murnau, Germany
The Location of Fruit #16, 1991
We thank you for visiting our online exhibition. Please contact the gallery to find out more about this exceptional artist.