Among the Flowers: Katherine Sherwood at George Adams Gallery

Katherine Sherwood, Violet Wishes, 2022. Mixed media on found cotton duck, 50 x 40 inches.

Katherine Sherwood was my painting professor in college. I’m sure she no longer remembers me, but I still think of her often. I was happy to catch her show at George Adams Gallery on the exhibition’s final day.

Installation View of Sherwood’s paintings, George Adams Gallery, New York

Sherwood suffered a stroke in 1997 that led to a massive cerebral hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain. She had to learn to paint all over again, switching from primarily working with her right hand to working with her left.[1] When I was studying with Sherwood, she was already working with the brain scan imagery that would become a recurring leitmotif in her work. It was interesting, and poignant, to see how her work has evolved.

Detail from Sherwood’s Birds Nest (After R. R.), 2021.

Detail from Sherwood, Lizard’s Passage, 2022.

Detail from Sherwood, Resplendent Ruby (After R.R.), 2022.

Detail from Sherwood, Resplendent Ruby (After R.R.), 2022.

Detail from Sherwood, Bread and Brains, 2022.

I found myself most drawn to the still life paintings that occupied the gallery’s front room. In these paintings, Sherwood integrated her brain scans into the fabric of the still lives, as petals, or pieces of fruit, or loaves of bread. The still life paintings have a lightness and openness, as well as a provisional quality, that connects them to the older body of work, the abstract paintings that she was making when I was her student.

Left: Katherine Sherwood, Resplendent Ruby (After R.R.), 2022. Right: Rachel Ruysch, Flowers in a Glass Vase, 1704. Collection of the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

Several of the floral still life paintings included in this exhibition were interpretations of Dutch still life paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. I particularly appreciated that she chose to paint her own versions of compositions by Clara Peeters and Rachel Ruysch, women painters whose careers have only recently been re-apparaised by art historians. The originals have a darkness and an acid bite all their own, and Sherwood’s paintings after these Dutch Old Masters (or “Old Mistresses,” as some call them) retain those qualities, but she adds a lyric edge of her own.


I remember asking Sherwood once, when I was taking her painting seminar, whether I should “become an artist.” I was looking for permission, and affirmation, as so many young women were taught to do. I might also have been searching for some practical advice on how to become an artist, or how to know if I could be an artist, if I was already some kind of nascent artist. It took me a very long time to understand her answer. I remember her answer, just as I remember that we were walking through campus on a bright cold day. “You should make art because you need to,” she answered. At the time, I didn’t really understand what she meant, why she said it with such conviction, and so I couldn’t think of any follow-up questions. I think we walked on, and fell to talking of something else.


1. Katherine Sherwood wrote an interesting piece in 2012 about how the cerebral hemorrhage changed her art practice.

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