Left: Callner’s graduate painting series, “Crucible,” done in encaustic (Couresty of Eric Wynen/The Current)
By Albert Nall, Staff Writer
On September 12, Gallery 210 opened a retrospective exhibit titled “Drawing for Two Hands” by Sharon Callner, who was an associate professor of the studio art program before she died on September 26, 2014 of leukemia. Philip Robinson, Callner’s husband and an associate professor of the studio art program at the University of Missouri—St. Louis, introduced patrons to Callner’s work.. Robinson was accompanied by the artist’s daughter and his daughter-in-law, Amy Callner. Robinson and his daughter-in-law were the stand-ins for Sharon Callner herself.
According to Robinson, Sharon Callner was influenced by Austrian painter Egon Schile, widely known for his nude self-portraits. As Robinson said in a leaflet, both Schile and Callner’s drawings “offended polite sexual sensitivities in society, while at the same time [challenged] veiled taboos.” Schile was a pioneer of Expressionism, a movement that challenged traditional perspectives on gender, race, and religion. Callner’s work is meant to evoke the viewpoints of her naked subjects. For example “The American Hang-ups of Rubin Stacy” (2004) is rooted in sharecropping and the working poor. A companion piece from 2004, “The American Hang-ups of Joseph Richardson,” projected the stirring legacy of lynching as a theme.
“Callner was interested in exploring the human condition, which she interpreted with great wit,” said Robinson. “At the same time, Callner reacted with great anger to social injustice, which was a component of her works. In many ways, Callner was more biting in the face of the trying experiences depicted in her works than those who lived them.”
Callner’s daughter commented on “Hail Mary” (2004), which portrays a voluptuous figure like Marilyn Monroe, with red and white stripes as a backdrop. “In this work, Callner speaks to the social idealization of how things were supposed to be in the late 1950s versus reality,” she said. “What one sees in the attractive young woman is not reality, but women as they were viewed: as an element of the male fantasy. The reality (of “Hail Mary”) is that of a housewife crouched over a stove cooking a meal. This work is reflective of how bodies change, and how women are beautiful in varied shapes and sizes.”
She also spoke about a series of pieces in the exhibit called “Crucible” (1994). The peeling of the subject’s body is done in a mix of paint and wax with a heat gun. The succession of works explores the effects of a body that is in literal shards. the “Crucible” series is a graduate thesis exhibition that rose out of the experience of one of Callner’s sons being burned in a fire,” according to Amy Callner.
What is enlightening about Callner’s “Drawing for Two Hands” is the style of her work. The structure of the human body is on display in its many forms, with its marks, teeth, and bones as symbols of splendor. Callner’s figure drawings convey the essences of gestures and movements, along with the vitality of a pose, and speaks to a narrative about the fringe demographics of people whom she saw falling through the cracks. Around the corner of the main room, Gallery C’s entrance, is a video playing an interview with Callner, in which she says, “Things hapen in your life that are beyond your control, and yet the human spirit is very strong.”
“Drawing for Two Hands” by Sharon Callner will be on display at Gallery 210 until October 10. For more information about other exhibits at Gallery 210, call 314-516-5976.