#WHM Sharon Core
We’ll be tapping our incredible archives in support of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day and posting interviews from our Women issue throughout the month of March.
Sharon Core homegrown
You grow all of the flowers and vegetables you photograph yourself. You literally create these images from scratch. Why do you consider the homegrown and homemade element so essential to your process?
One can't photograph something that doesn't first exist in reality; so, it is necessary for me to bring the objects into existence. This led me to growing old varieties of fruits and flowers that are not available in the contemporary marketplace. I enjoy my process immensely and the areas of knowledge that open up through it.
Some have associated your work with appropriation art, but this doesn’t seem to accurately represent your process. How would you describe what you do?
There is an appropriative aspect, but one that crosses over media. The paintings, through reproductions, that I have re-created for the camera are the true subjects of my work. The final photographic image stands as evidence of my activities. As my work progressed, it became less about specific paintings and artists and more about a certain kind of constructed reality and a push and pull with the natural world.
Let’s talk a little about your background. When did you first know you wanted to pursue art? Was there a particular artist or piece that inspired you?
When I was about six years old, I saw a reproduction of The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait in a magazine and I was captivated by it. I still am! I loved being able to look into the mysterious world of the past in such an immediate and intimate way.
You were trained as a painter. When did photography become your preferred medium?
Photography has always been a presence, going back to early on when I made a series of paintings based on photographs of my mother as a child. Afterwards, I got a 35mm camera for my sixteenth birthday and began making black and white paintings from the photographs I made of the mall, store mannequins and displays. After graduating from university, I moved to Stockholm and began photographing still life for paintings that I was making. At some point, I realized that I was more involved in the act of photographing and the tension that was created in the moment. That's when I became more serious about photography as a medium without painting, but later the painting returned. So, it’s always been a back and forth.
When did you become interested in representing the techniques and traditions of painting in the context of photography?
Is that what I do? I essentially create a reality for a photograph.
In essence, your works are the inverse of trompe l’oeils, striving for the illusion of painterliness rather than the illusion of reality. What do you think is revealed in this reversal?
Are they tricking the eye as in tromp l'oeil, or are they trompe l'appareil photo? Maybe I am deceiving the camera's lens? I don't approach my work with the idea of revealing anything. I make work out of curiosity. I would rather ask questions.
Speaking of illusion, the illusory seems to be a common thread in your work—going back to your Thiebaud series and your early work photographing pigs’ ears to look like roses. What is it about illusion that you like to explore? What do you want to get out of the audience besides the optical trick?
I really don't make work with the audience in mind. I come to it as a question. It’s about what I want to explore, and what I want to see. What would a Thiebaud painting look like recreated for the camera with all of the extraneous material, the crumbs and so forth? Maybe the audience will see the paintings differently. I like to ask a lot of questions in my work. What is the nature of time, of truth, of history, of content? Today, we live in a world of many illusions brought to us through photography. I am just pointing the camera in another direction.
Were still life’s always your artistic focus? What is it about the genre that speaks to you?
I have long been enthralled by the still life. I see the genre as a family of images all related to each other. It is a genre about poetry, the up-close and personal in people's lives throughout history, and about how what we call ‘nature’ intersects with culture. I am attracted to the anonymity of the genre. The old still life painters don't reveal their ‘hand.’ Not until modernism, or after photography, does the genre become a framework for individual formal achievements seen in Cézanne or Picasso. There is a psychological intimacy in all of still life that is attractive to me.
When did you first encounter the work of Raphaelle Peale, and what compelled you to create a series mimicking his work?
I first saw his work included in the show William Harnett and the Trompe l'Oeil Still Life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a visit to New York in 1992. I was struck by their uncanny quality, their smallness and strangeness. Later on, when I was searching for a new subject, I found Alexander Nemerov's book about Raphaelle's work and life in the Early Republic. I had been living in the Hudson Valley for a couple of years and felt the pull of history and horticulture. I thought it would be a rich place to go after the ‘Thiebaud's.’ I enjoyed the idea of inhabiting a pre-photographic way of seeing and of delving into a psychology of a lesser-known artist—one who was determined to paint still life despite the discouragement from his father, the portraitist Charles Wilson Peale. I enjoyed playing with this period of art history that is so rich in illusionism and the deception.
Your series 1606-1907 tracks and painstakingly recreates three centuries of painting. What was the research process like?
Yes, the word ‘painstaking’ is often applied to my work. I prefer the words meticulous, attentive, rigorous, particular. My research always involves a lot of reading and looking. When I travelled, I looked at particular paintings and I looked at reproductions. Always lots of reproductions. Identifying specific flowers that are important to specific artists, or time periods, and learning how to grow them, and arrange them as the painter would. The most fascinating one of these was papaver somniferum, or the opium poppy, which is very visible in Dutch Baroque paintings. They have very distinctive, magnificent flowers with a huge variety of blooms that are very fragile. And, such a rich history and meaning. I will also read fiction. Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies is a fantastic historical novel about the opium poppy.
What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered creating this series?
Working with flowers and plants is incredibly challenging. They are living things with their own sense of gravity, timing, and movement. Flowers are extremely difficult to control. They are so fragile. One has to develop very sensitive hands. I was growing and working with a vast array of varieties so it was quite complicated.
This is our women’s issue, and we want to talk about the experience of being a woman in the art world. What has your experience been like? Were there any challenges you faced breaking into art as a woman?
I am sure there have been. It’s hard for anyone; although, it must be harder for women considering the lack of parity between men and women in the art world. It's a big problem and a big subject without easy answers. At any rate, I hope that this women's issue isn't marginalized and gets a good male readership.
What’s next for you?
I have moved my studio inside a greenhouse where I am attempting to cultivate pictures from the ground up.