The recent paintings of Sharon Lawless reflect her consistent interest in structure, process and unconventional materials. Earlier pieces range from painted plywood constructions (late 1980s – early '90s) to collages made from plastic shower curtains (mid '90s) to ephemeral collages of found graphic images (mid '90s – present). Implicit in each body of work is the challenge Lawless sets up for herself: to achieve a measure of control over a non-art, often unpredictable, medium.
This is particularly true with her current paintings, in which she pours nail enamel over primed linen or paper, creating an odd alchemy of layered color. In the brightness, intensity, and shell-like viscosity of the amorphous color areas on the stark white ground, the paintings assert a bold presence despite their modest dimensions (each 11" x 12"). The shapes are organic, often visceral in character, and appear very compact or compressed in form. The colors – brilliant shades of red, magenta, green, brown and metallic copper and silver – catch and reflect light. The particular shades and variety of colors are unlike any found in conventional oil or acrylic paint. Although she enjoys the challenge of painting with nail enamel, she intends no social or cultural commentary in her choice of medium, and it is immaterial to her whether or not the viewer recognizes the paint as nail polish.
While readily acknowledging that her process is subject to chance, Lawless is fascinated by the unexpected color mixtures and mercurial shapes that occur as she pours one color over another. After preparing the canvas with many thin layers of gesso, she pours each color directly from the bottle, using no brush but tilting the canvas to control the direction and flow of the pour. She notes that the initial process of preparing the surface is very controlled, slow and labor-intensive, but the painting itself is rapid and unpredictable, as repeated attempts to control the process are thwarted. The enamel, usually poured in three or four colors, assumes a few basic configurations: amorphous puddles, extended elliptical shapes and thinner lines. Often she will modulate the surface by working a tint of pigment into the gesso. She develops each composition within an essentially square format, almost dead center; with forms pushing out toward the edge of the canvas. In some works she expands the painting to a horizontal or vertical diptych, with connective lines or shapes of color uniting the two panels.
The strength of these paintings is their visceral intensity, with saturated color on a light colored ground. It is clear that these are the works of an accomplished artist, who has created and mastered a difficult medium and continues to set challenges for herself.
Robert M. Murdock