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Sheridan's paintings lodge themselves in the imagination
Maureen Sheridan creates quiet, understated paintings that sneak up on you and lodge themselves in your imagination before you're aware of it.
I saw a piece of hers five or six years ago of a boy sitting in the grass at the edge of a pond, fishing. It was a low-key, undramatic image; you knew how the grass felt on the boy's legs - scratchy - and what he was probably hearing as he sat there waiting for a bite, crickets or cicadas depending on how far advanced the summer was. You knew how it felt to be sitting out there in the sun, hot and sticky unless a cool breeze was blowing off the water, and you knew what the warm grass smelled like. I remember seeing the painting a couple of times and being lulled into a sort of summery, relaxed frame of mind by it.
Then the piece was gone - someone bought it - and that was when I began to understand what Sheridan's work is up to. All these years later I can recall the image distinctly and when I do, I remember all those other associations: the sounds and smells, the landscape the fishing boy inhabits. It's a vaguely southern Ontario, probably a south-eastern Ontario, landscape, although if asked to explain why that scrubby grass has an appearance specific to this corner of the world, it would be difficult.
That painting evoked, and therefore contained, a whole world. It was an image that is part of most people's experience, but the details located it in a specific place. The piece did what art can sometimes do; it can conflate the general and the singular, making an explicit experience accessible to many people - it helps us see the world through another person's eyes.
I've been looking closely at Sheridan's work since then, trying to understand how it achieves the effects it does. The scenes she chooses to show us are often undramatic - the boy fishing, a woman glancing out a window. Whatever drama may be occurring is going on offstage, and is implied by the interest shown by the people in the painting, but it remains a mystery to us.
The colours Sheridan works in are often subdued. Frequently she selects a small number of analogous colours and builds up an image using tones and tints of these closely-related hues. This gives her work cohesiveness, and also contributes to its restrained atmosphere.
Viewed up close the paintings have a loose, scrubby quality. Patches of primed canvas are sometimes visible through the layers of pigment.
Details are sketched in, but Sheridan isn't trying for the tight exactitude of magic realism, the sharpened, photographic rendering of reality which can create a keyed-up sense of hyper-awareness. She is comfortable giving us the essentials and letting us supply the rest.
Instead of telling us everything, she lets us bring our own understanding and experience to the act of seeing.
And then there's her subject matter; more successfully than many other painters, Sheridan has managed to get on canvas scenes specific to this part of the world. Consciously or not, she's staked out this area as her territory and she gets its rough beauty down without sentimentalizing it. Her work captures the varieties of light, the intersections of land and water; the structures of the earth unique to this part of south-eastern Ontario...her style is the right one for communicating the spare, unadorned quality of land and light here.
The Whig Standard, March 2001
"I enjoy exploring the relationship between people and water," she says. Her most recent collection of scenes she painted after spending last fall in a cottage by the St. Lawrence. They feature people reading or talking on the phone, flanked by beautiful old heritage buildings. "The buildings are from another era, but the people bring it up-to-date".
Kingston Life Magazine
Reckoning of transitory, in-between spaces
Over the past several years, Maureen Sheridan has produced a body of paintings of life in and around Kingston. She captures the blowzy character of the Eastern Ontario landscape; its aura of gentle neglect - of having been passed by - is amplified by the structures of human passage through it or by the constancy, for example, of sculling teams on the river. The deft understatement of Sheridan's painting produces an acute sense of time passing and of an enduring familiarity, an achievement reminiscent of American painter Edward Hopper's work.
The works selected for Edifice reveal an emerging aspect of Sheridan's practice. The comfortable, open lyricism evident in her 1992 Panorama show at the Agnes Etherington has been displaced by a reckoning of transitory, in-between spaces, both social and physical. She paints a preponderance of highways, train tracks or docks , of cafes and pool halls. In these recent works there is a fascinating strain of instability in which the dreamy, steadying quality of the hinterland is unsettled. Beyond the Overpass is a grand rendition of the transitional edge of the city, where urban space loosens its hold and field grasses hold sway amid the power lines and train tracks...
In Sundown, Mallorytown, a roadside breakdown east of Kingston is uneasily echoed in the stilted pose of the young woman (Sheridan's self-portrait). There is a sense of imminence and an almost unbearable puzzle of the figure's relationship to the event depicted: she seems both trapped by the scene and utterly uninvolved. Night Fair conveys the allure of Kingston's annual late-summer fair; but the marginal, temporary escape it offers from daily life barely holds its own at the edge of the Memorial Centre lot.
Curator of Contemporary Art
Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1997
Further east along Lake Ontario, at Kingston, is another artist who could be termed a perceptual realist, Maureen Sheridan. The Brockville-born artist's 1991 canvas Beyond the Overpass is representative of her work, with its subtle range of colours and textures, and its keen observation of failing light and the semi-urban/semi-rural landscape to be found around most Canadian cities. As in most perceptual realist paintings the subject is specific - in this case the Division Street overpass in Kingston. Sheridan photographs friends in situ, then works on the composition in her studio. The girl walking her dog along the railway track, the man approaching, the ragged long grass, the hydro towers and lines across the cluttered landscape of near-development: in conveying this familiar terrain Sheridan eschews narrative, but remains faithful to what Jack Chambers called the "ping" of perception - the moment when a complex scene is perceived as meaningful in all its detail and as en masse, so that the artist can render it with fidelity, and convey the excitement of that moment to us.
Her 1993 painting Merida evokes the deceptive calm that pervades many of her images. Only slowly do its composition and colour yield up the quietly disturbing quality of Sheridan's visual matters of fact.
London Life Young Contemporaries 1993 Exhibition Catalogue
London Regional Art and Historical Museums, 1993
Indeed, there is an indescribable quality that makes these ordinary scenes reverberate with emotion. Perhaps because the canvases are uncluttered, the main idea is intensified, the moment is entirely focused, and the viewer is able to contemplate that particular slice of life without distraction...
The quiet atmosphere in all three Lime Rickey's paintings contrasts with the flash and colour of the diner. The woman in the green coat (actually the artist) is the lone customer, waiting, thinking, gazing at the industrious preparations of the diner staff. In Scintillation Counter, an enormous sparkling clock lends a surreal feeling to the the scene of an equally sparkling counter, with its glass containers and round chrome stools.
One of the ideas explored in these works, she says, is the human experience of alienation. "Here's the big city, full of excitement. But you can be alone. People can be lonely no matter where they are...."
The Whig Standard Magazine, June 1990
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