Late in her life Sharrer wrote that, “Ordinary matters are the largest category of subjects in my painting; then, the next largest subjects are myths, including religious subjects (whether in jest or earnest), and then nursery rhymes.” Sharrer’s emphasis on “ordinary matters” is quite unexpected given the prevalence of the absurd and fantastical throughout her oeuvre. But Sharrer uses the whimsical, and even the perverse, to reveal the tensions and shortcomings that trouble the very real and ordinary matters of her era.
Sharrer’s surrealism is not only a tool, but also an end. To fully attend to the images of modern life unfolding around us is to become fully aware of its fractured nature, of its surrealism. We accept the abrupt shift of idea and image that occurs when a TV show moves to a commercial and back. We are accustomed to the overlay of images as we thumb through a magazine or view the landscape from a moving car. We do all of this while also juggling our interior stream of thoughts, which contains both images of the present and memories of the past.
To convey this world back to its participants visually requires the surreal. Poet James Longenbach wrote that Sharrer’s paintings “recognize that our world is not naturally coherent… [the paintings’] strangeness…is different from the strangeness of everyday life, but it is not more strange. …more marked by odd juxtapositions and meaningless coincidences.” The lives of farmers and waitresses, priests and butchers, wealthy and poor, and the day-to-day objects that make up the fabric of their lives, are at once epic and mundane, surreal and ordinary.
Image: Honoré Sharrer. American, 1920–2009. Resurrection of the Waitress, 1984. Oil on canvas. 22 × 22 in. (55.88 × 55.88 cm). Collection of Adam Zagorin and the late Perez Zagorin