By Emma Castleberry
Through April 7, The Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts is hosting the first-ever retrospective featuring the works of North Carolina artist Michael Sherrill. Michael Sherrill Retrospective examines the artist’s 40-year career through more than 70 pieces of his work, starting in 1977. Annie Carlano, curator of craft, design and fashion at The Mint, serves as lead organizing curator with guest curator Marilyn Zapf of The Center for Craft. “Our understanding and appreciation of important art by mature makers is deepened by a visual survey and historical analysis,” says Carlano. The exhibition includes loans from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Racine Museum of Art and individual collectors in Oregon, Florida, Vermont and North Carolina.
Carlano says she was deeply moved by Sherrill’s “Temple of the Cool Beauty,” a sculpture of a yukka plant which she first saw in 2008. “I was blown away by the beauty and masterful craftsmanship, a combination of precision and poetry,” she says. “I studied that sculpture and began to delve more deeply into Michael’s oeuvre. It didn’t take long to realize that his artistic expression was unique and deserved to be well known to a wider audience.” While Sherrill’s work is rooted in the natural environment of Bat Cave, where he resides, the allure of his work is universal. “The sculptures invite slow looking and quiet contemplation, much in the way we are drawn to a Dutch 17th century floral still life or Redouté botanical watercolor,” Carlano says.
Michael Sherrill Retrospective is broken into several sections, beginning with Early Works and ending with Contemporary Sculpture. Each section is introduced by a video featuring Sherrill, shot on location in Bat Cave and produced by Matthew Mebane and Maria White Mebane. Sherrill’s first museum show was held at The Mint Museum in Charlotte when the artist was in his twenties. “My relationship goes a long way back with The Mint,” he says. While the artist acknowledges that a show of this scale requires some give and take, he “couldn’t be happier” with the exhibition. “I’ve worked for so long and all of this work hasn’t ever been together like this,” he says. “I was very pleased that there is a narrative there that really works. It presents my work really well.” Sherrill, who is dyslexic, says that connection and communicating emotion has always been a driving force in his work. “I care about connecting with other people and this work is in dialogue,” he says. “I’m saying things that are personal, but I also tried to be just universal enough so that people have access to the work. They don’t have to know all the details to bring it in, absorb it and consider it.”
Sherrill compares the act of making art to a game of tennis. “I see good art and I want to bounce that ball right over the net,” he says. “I want to be part of the game.” In this way, he is regularly inspired by other artists. He identifies Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” in Chicago (often called “The Bean”) as “the most interesting piece of art in the world. All of these people are buzzing around it, and they’re not always trained or sophisticated, but they all have a sense of wonder when they look at it. They play with it and engage with people around them. I think it typifies what I’d hope my work would do even in a little way. That kind of engagement or connection. It’s really the tennis game of give and take: being a receiver of something good and giving out something good.”
The Mint Museum Uptown is located at 500 South Tryon Street in Charlotte. A scholarly exhibition catalogue edited by Carlano is also available for purchase at the museum and online. The exhibition will travel to the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in summer 2019, and the Arizona State University Art Museum in early 2020. For more information about the exhibit or to purchase the catalogue, visit MintMuseum.org. For more information about the artist, visit MichaelSherrill.net.