From the Earth, Tar and Oil Paintings
SHIRLEY CANNON PRACTITIONER OF MAGIC
Since September 11th, the art world has retreated into a kind of return to nature as a spiritual answer to the destruction for which we were not forewarned. Shirley Cannon’s works suggest the desultory complexity of nature alongside the underlying darkness. Cannon is an abstract artist who paints imagined forces of nature, large, mysterious, and loosely textured. She includes collage to show the visceral beauty of the earth, as well as it’s desecration. Cannon grew up in the coal mines of West Virginia. She was a coal miner’s daughter who left West Virginia at age seventeen, largely to escape the coal dust that permeated everything she saw and touched. Although she got away from the area, the coal has never left her and art has become about that place. She works with layers of Japanese rice paper glued onto mahogany panels, and then combines them with fibers, Fixall, various construction materials, varnish and oil. Sometimes a painting takes as long as two years to complete.
“Amber Nest”, a huge triptych, completed in 2001, is a masterpiece. It is an amalgam of dark mahogany, swirling rusts and fiery reds, as with the others in the series, she starts with a body print of herself in coal dust and abstracts from there, merging form and gesture with a bravado rarely seen today. It’s almost like a stage setting for the beginning of the earth. “Bituminous Veins” done in 2002, is composed of oil, tar, paper and charcoal. It is slightly different from the others in that the primary color is green, perhaps a step forward in the new evolutionary chain. Straddling painting and collage, Shirley Cannon impressively mixes and matches sparkling glimpses of the moment of creation with the mysterious shadowy underside. She is a true practitioner in the tradition of magic. Cannon controls the spectator’s reaction to her work. This is the mark of a great painter.