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Meet Sharon Lacey in Somerville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sharon Lacey.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Sharon. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in rural South Carolina, just outside Charleston. My childhood was a bit Southern Gothic meets Norman Lear sitcom—but with exceedingly supportive parents and an older brother who influenced me artistically.

Gradually, I worked my way up the East coast, studying art in Washington, DC, and New York before coming to Boston (by way of London). In college, I studied Art and English—Southern literature, in particular. I also studied at Oxford University in Keble College’s Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, which exposed me to a lot of new artistic influences.

Painting and drawing the human figure appealed to me from day one. It had something to do with my literary interests in characterization. But mainly, the figure just seemed like the most challenging subject, formally and psychologically—and it comes with so much art historical baggage. We Southerners love to wallow in historical baggage!

I moved to New York in 1999 for graduate school at the New York Academy of Art, a figurative art school in Tribeca that emphasizes anatomy and historical materials and techniques. Eric Fischl was my advisor there. His approach to the figure was far less academic than that of the other faculty. So, he presented a valuable counterpoint.

After teaching studio art for several years, I moved to London to study book history under the great manuscript scholar Michelle Brown at the University of London. I was researching 13th-century Apocalypses and manuscript painting techniques. In some ways, this research built on my prior studies in technical art history. But overall, the experience in London set me on a different course in my studio practice. When I moved to Boston in 2012, I began to incorporate some of the ideas from my research into my paintings.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
At Catholic school, the nuns used to tell us, “Offer it up,” if you ever mentioned any hardship. Dealing with the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius was an early cross to bear! But in all seriousness, maybe seeing my own suffering as relatively insignificant—if not outright shrugging it off—hasn’t been such a bad thing.

As a painter, I try to channel whatever difficulty I’m enduring into my work. Art can transform the unbearable stuff of life into something potentially meaningful. A shift occurred in my studio practice soon after finishing my MFA in New York in 2001. The World Trade Center was attacked that September. It was a challenging time to live in the City, and it brought about an introspective turn in my work. I had been making these very big, witty paintings, and they just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I abandoned the figure for five years, scaled down, and grappled with more metaphysical themes through abstraction.

When the figure returned, I began to center on the everyday torments of being in these fleshy, frail bodies of ours. Sickness, isolation, awkwardness, death—those are really unifying experiences. And these experiences extend to all people through time—which is why art historical images matter so much to me—because the artists who made all the works that came before shared our same emotional palette. They were tapping into to the same feelings that I am, and then using the same motor skills and the same medium to convey all of it. I find that reassuring somehow. Misfortune creates solidarity. It connects everyone.

Sharon Lacey – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I paint the human figure or groups of figures in ambiguous situations. My images are heavily informed by art history, but I don’t directly reference existing works, or any source material, for that matter. I’ve spent lots of time in museums, studying master works, drawing copies, building my visual vocabulary, and all the experience I have drawing and painting the model has freed me to invent the figure. Now, I don’t base my paintings on preliminary sketches, or photographs, or direct observation. Instead, I find the image through layering the paint. And with any luck, that process generates an image that feels like it has lived in humanity a long time.

I’m interested in how images carry cultural memory and accumulate meanings through the centuries, as they are imported into new contexts. Oil paint, given its long history, really suits my needs, since I’m trying to convey shared feelings and experiences rather than those aspects of existence that lock us into a particular time or place.

What moment in your career are you most proud of?
Oh my goodness, pride is the deadliest of the seven deadly sins! How can I possibly answer this? Over the years, there have been a handful of paintings I’ve made that came off well—perhaps better than the sum of what I’m capable of doing. Nothing beats that feeling. And then if other people see the work and relate to it, that’s wonderful too. The medievalist in me needs to add that I published some of my research on “tinted drawing” in Colour and Light in Ancient to Medieval Art, and that book is in the British Library! I’m such a library nerd and to be represented in that collection in any small way satisfies a personal goal. I’ve “contributed to the dialogue,” so to speak.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Joy Street Studios
    86 Joy Street, Studio 28
    Somerville, MA 02143
  • Website: sharonlacey.com
  • Email: shalapainter@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @shalapainter
  • Twitter: @sharonlacey13

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