We’ve all heard the expression, “We are what we eat.” How about, “We are what we paint.” You won’t get many arguments from artists and critics alike on this point. After all, art is usually personal expression if it’s any “good,” influenced by diverse sources: culture, worldviews, experiences. We could go on and on.
Sheila Isham’s work is no exception regarding the idea of influences, yet her precise derivations are special, developing chiefly from philosophical beliefs. As Isham wrote in a catalog accompanying her 2010 show at Bryn Mawr College, “Art is or can be an image of one’s life. It is not separate… it is merely a means, albeit a very aesthetic means, of expressing that life.”
Isham’s “means” have been varied, driven by the places she has lived and the spiritual beliefs that have evolved. For example, experiences in such varied countries as Russia, India, East Asia and Haiti left her with the idea of archetypical images, which often permeate her art to this day. Particularly, Isham’s time in Hong Kong evoked abstracted calligraphy; during the late 1970s and 1980s, her work in the United States brought forth abstracted landscape and mythic shapes.
Myths continued to play a large part in Isham’s subsequent series, like her “Cosmic Myth” pieces (including the “Oasis Series” and the “Dream Sequences”). The Oasis paintings signify the coexistence of varied species while the Dream works suggest Man’s respect for nature and all its creatures.
Isham’s current show at Pierre’s Restaurant in Bridgehampton provides a context for these previous works, with both differences and similarities somewhat apparent. First, the differences. The present series is called “ Comic Myth,” and although the artist ascribes a definitive meaning to such a title, this critic sees a play on words, where “comic” and “cosmic” are juxtaposed. The “Comic Myth” paintings are literally humorous at first glance, the abstract figures playful and animate. Conversely, the previous “Cosmic Myth” series uses personification, with the animals evoking human characteristics and often a more realistic style.
Another difference: the current pieces are also collages with paper from Nepal on Japanese rice people. The results are eloquent, the colors (especially the oranges and pinks) are exquisite.
There are also some similarities, philosophically-speaking; both mythic series, “Cosmic” and “Comic,” suggest a story where life-lessons are learned. The “Comic” pieces teach us about evolution and the process of “becoming.” Isham’s configurations seem half-formed, but we look forward to their changing into an “adult” state.
Moreover, the “Comic” works appear to comment on communication (far-fetched as this may sound). Thus, there are three figures relating to each other as a group; in another piece, there are two configurations connecting. In one image, a single shape stands alone. Knowing Isham’s philosophy, however, all the forms will eventually reunite to dwell among every creature of the world.
“Comic Myth” will be on view at Pierre’s Restaurant in Bridgehampton, 2468 Main Street, until November 30. Call Sheila Isham at 631-283-6297 for information.