Robert Sherer's BLOODWORKS: Portraits of Love and Loss in the Age of AIDS

Robert Sherer's BLOODWORKS:  Portraits of Love and Loss in the Age of AIDS
Little Gorgeous Things Presents a Special Month-Long Exhibit of "Blood Works" by Robert Sherer

For the month of September, Little Gorgeous Things will present "Blood Works: Portraits of Love and Loss in the Age of AIDS" by Atlanta-based artist Robert Sherer. The exhibit consists of botanical and anatomical illustrations on paper, executed in blood drawn from the artist, as well as donated blood from friends of the artist. This special exhibit conveys a profound and highly personal aesthetic statement by an internationally acclaimed artist in response to the continuing AIDS crisis in America and abroad.

"Blood Works" will open on Friday September 9, with an artist reception from 7-9pm in The Garden Gallery; the following evening, Saturday, September 10, Mr. Sherer will present a gallery talk about his work at 7:30pm.

"Blood Works" will continue through the month of September as part of the 2005 Provincetown Fall Arts Festival, and will end on Thursday, October 6, 2005.

Robert Sherer is an internationally-recognized artist who studied the two-dimensional arts of painting, drawing, and printmaking at Walker College (Jasper, Alabama), the Atlanta College of Art, Georgia State University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Edinboro University (Edinboro, Pennsylvania) where he received his MFA degree in Fine Arts in 1992. He represented the United States in the Biennale Internazionale dell Arte' Contemporanea (also known as the Florence Biennale) in Florence, Italy, in 2001. In 2002, he represented the United States in the Triennale Internationale d'Art Contemporain (Paris, France). Over the past 25 years, Sherer has exhibited in numerous group and solo shows including the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, the Center for AIDS and Humanity (Atlanta), the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, The City of Atlanta Gallery, The State Museum of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, PA), The Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, Ohio), the National Arts Club Gallery (New York City), the Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, Alabama), and The AIDS Cure Project (Atlanta). Over the years, the artist has also contributed works to numerous auctions in support of AIDS services, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the ArtCare Auction (Atlanta), ArtFest '97 (Atlanta), the Birmingham AIDS Outreach Auction (Birmingham, AL), and the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod (Massachusetts).

The artist was born and raised in northern Alabama, outside of Birmingham, and currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Sherer is a Professor of Art at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta. According to the national organization, People for the American Way, he is also one of the most censored artists in America (see section on "Censorship" below).

"Blood Works"

According to the artist, the "Blood Works" series arose from his anger and frustration over the AIDS epidemic: "My personal rage about the AIDS crisis reached such a point that I shut down. I just ran dry -- I was totally impotent to do anything about it." In response, Sherer turned to his lifelong interest in botanical illustrations: "I studied botanical illustration in college, and had every intention in completing my degree in botany. I come from a family of horticulturalists -- my mother is a master gardener and a herbalist. My family not only told me the practicality of plants, but also their history and folklore. During the time when I was doing botanical illustration, I was also at the height of my own sexual exploration. Sexual and botanical exploration laid the groundwork for me to accidentally stumble on 'Blood Works.'"

According to Sherer's Artist Statement for the Paris Triennale, "Botanical illustration and sexuality are intertwined. Flowers function on two distinct levels: they are beautiful, but they are also the genitals of plants. Beauty is an intangible -- sex organs are a tangible. Love is an ideality -- sex is a reality. For me, the edge where the real and the ideal meet is the most I can ever expect from any experience, whether it is the pursuit of art or the pursuit of a sexual or romantic relationship. Ultimately, the subject matter of this series concerns the complexities of romantic life and sexual attraction in the Age of HIV."

Images in the "Blood Works" series also derive from antiquity (Greek vases) and Renaissance classicism (anatomical and animal drawings). "All my mentors have been classicists," explains Sherer. "There has always been a great Greek classicism in my life. I travel all over the world to ponder Greek vases and collect books on them. These are fragile vessels that we have managed to collect and preserve -- some of them are over 4,000 years old. There is something inherent in their design -- the shapes of the vessels, their iconography -- that plays to me on a profound level."

In addition to their aesthetic beauty and technical mastery, the images in the "Blood Works" series contain transcendent metaphorical implications: a single erect red rose is encased in a translucent condom, the prickly thorns rippling along its latex surface. In "Sweet William" a hand enters the pictorial surface with a pair of scissors, about to cut short the life of a healthy flower. In "Love Nest" two rabbits snuggle side by side encased in a bower of valentine-shaped leaves, the blood media containing both HIV-Positive and HIV-Negative blood. "Patient Zero" is a winged insect -- a carrier or harbinger or messenger of mysterious intention.

Far from the "sensational" or "transgressive" or "edgy" trends that mark so much contemporary art, "Blood Works" contains significant, allusive meaning rendered in a traditionally classic form. Using an unconventional medium -- body fluid (his own and donated blood), the artist deeply binds himself to his work, committing a part of himself to his art that renders his images all the more personal and political and impassioned. "Blood Works" is truly a unique exhibit, one that resonates outside the "academic" realm of the art world and into the "real" world of rising HIV infection rates, "super" viruses, and a population progressively indifferent to an epidemic that still remains among us.

Artist Statement:

"One evening, while playing with an X-Acto razor, it slipped from my hand and stuck straight up in my thigh. When I removed the blade from my leg, a red geyser shot into the air -- I must have hit an artery. I quickly collected the liquid in a hermetic container and placed it in the refrigerator.

"The next day, when I attempted to use it as a drawing medium, I was discouraged to find that the pigment instantly coagulated in my quill pen. After some experimentation and consultation with a medical technician, I suspended the liquid in a thinning solution which helped it to flow smoothly.

"Soon after creating my first drawing in the series, I discovered another setback to my medium: when it dries it darkens to brown within a day. It took several weeks of experimentation with sealers and varnishes before I found the best combination to preserve the sanguine freshness of my pigment. I now draw the blood from my arm with new, clean syringes."

In addition to his own blood, Sherer employs donated blood from friends -- both men and women, both HIV-Positive and HIV-Negative individuals. The drawings are then rendered on Wausau and Linweave archival papers. Some of the smaller images are encased in frames from the artist's collection of Victorian oval wood frames.

Censorship (Compiled, written and edited by Richard Melvin, Shane Harrison, and Robert Sherer)

"In 1989, the American artist Robert Sherer publicly displayed for the first time a selection of paintings from his graduate school thesis project and immediately incurred the wrath of local conservatives. His thesis, titled "Re-Presentation," was comprised of oil paintings of male nudes in famous female poses, mocking the sexism of Western art history. Since that first controversy, the artist's censorship battles in Ohio, Pennsylvania, his home state of Alabama, and most recently South Carolina have established him among the most censored artists in the United States.

"In addition to widespread national media coverage, his four incidents of censorship have been documented by many First Amendment advocacy groups and censorship watchdog organizations including The American Civil Liberties Union, ArtSave -- People For The American Way, the Individual Visual Artist's Coalition, Inc., and the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression. His 1995 out-of-court settlement of an ACLU-sponsored ten million dollar lawsuit against the Barnwell County Museum [South Carolina] marks one of the few cases where an American artist has received financial recompense for a First Amendment violation."


"Barrier" Artwork by Robert Sherer
blood on paper, framed
"Ex Stasis" Artwork by Robert Sherer
blood on paper, framed
"Sweet William" Artwork by Robert Sherer
blood on paper, framed
"Bride Stripped Bare" Artwork by Robert Sherer
blood on paper, framed
"Protect Yourself from Pricks" Artwork by Robert Sherer
blood on paper, framed
"Encounters" Artwork by Robert Sherer
blood on paper, framed
"Marital Infidel" Artwork by Robert Sherer
blood on paper,framed