Artist: Sherri Cobb

Location: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Series: Preview Collection “Tipping Point: Setting an X-Sample”
Number in collection: 12 handbags

“Artists are the last space explorers. I'm always trying to expose space and create an exploration space for the spectator, the viewership.”

Q&A with Sherri Cobb

Where did you grow up?

Well, that’s an interesting question. I grew up in many places, aspects of which are all included in my paintings one way or another. I was born in Kingsville, Texas but I didn’t spend too much time there. Many of my younger years were spent moving throughout the Sun Belt. Many of my earliest memories are from my home in Central Florida on “Stone Island.” On this spit of land off the St. Johns River, I swam with alligators, was chased down in the swamps by water moccasins and swam in tannin filled black water. Stone Island was a game preserve during the Prohibition and people would ferry from many places to this little island for the weekend—probably to booze it up and hunt for wild turkey. But there was also a ton of jungle wildlife to be found there, from Florida panthers and bears to gators, osprey and snakes. When I was nine years old we moved to Tucson, Arizona, for four years and then back to Texas. Only this time we didn’t return to Kingsville, we moved to Austin, where, to this day, I love to spend a lot of time.

When did you start painting?

I was a creative child from the get-go, creating my own world as I climbed trees and swam on the island. I wanted to draw these worlds that I had imagined while playing. So my mom, recognizing this desire, reached out to one of my neighbor’s on Stone Island, Sherry Mullen, who was an artist for Disney. An accomplished oil painter of landscape, still life, and animals, Sherry took me under her wing, and my mom paid her four dollars an hour (wow maybe it was even two dollars) to teach me how to paint. Perhaps it wasn’t such a stretch that I’d take to oil painting so quickly during those two years of private instruction. Art is in my blood, as my grandmother, too, was an artist.

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Besides a genetic predisposition, did you pick up a lot from your grandmother?

Yes. She did figurative works for most of her life and her art intrigued me for sure. She moved to New York City from Hamburg, Germany in the late 30’s with my (Belgian born) grandfather who who worked for NBC radio. She would go to the Metropolitan Museum and do the copy work that other women would do at the time. So, now in my own collection are some of the copy works my grandmother did: copies of Rembrandt, Manet, drawings and small studies among others.

Given that you were basically Mowgli from The Jungle Book, what did you think of living in Arizona?

I moved to Arizona when I was nine years old. My parents were into health, so we’d often hike the Santa Catalina and Tucson Mountains. After being surrounded by water and tall cypress trees in Florida, I found the desert terrain to be truly fascinating. This stunning contrast occurred at such a formative time in my life that I think it’s one of the reasons why contrast is such a prominent theme throughout my work. While living in Arizona, I continued my private lessons in art with another woman who charged even more money. I think she was a whole eight dollars an hour! That continued for the few years I was there. We then moved to Austin when I was 13 and I simply took art courses through my public education all the way through high school. At age 17, my family moved to the Bay area of California where my art path took a serious turn. I studied with a wonderful Bay area painter, Bill Rushton, who I am still friends with to this day.

How did living in California sap your inner artist?

Well it wasn’t so much California as it was my parents. I had been accepted into a couple of the best art schools, but my parents had sticker shock from esteemed places like Otis & Cal Arts. So I did the next best thing. I studied art at my local community college. Throughout my entire childhood I had parents that had loved and supported this endeavor and then when I was nearing my independence, following my art destiny, if you will, they were consumed by fear and doubt. My aspirations where met with the typical parental pragmatism, “Your so talented, but you really can’t make a living doing this. You should look for a job that is stable or safe.” Well, that really rattled me.

So, I quit school and went to work full time in the internet industry for the first few years, worked in sales for an assembly & fabrication company for prototype printed circuit boards, fashion sales and high-end leather goods sales. Even though I wasn’t essentially pursuing an art education at the time, all the above allowed me to realize how creative I could be with the products I was working for or with, I become especially passionate when it comes to products I believe in! So it is interesting how this collaboration with Cetuvi really brings my history full-circle.

But you have an MFA so obviously you decided to rebel against the fam at some point.

Hell yes! (laughs…) In 1996, I moved back to Austin with the intention of studying art at the University of Texas. I had to wait a year to get my residency so, once again, I enrolled in the community college. In the interim of that year, I was mentored by Mexican Muralist Raul Valdez as well as Madelon Umlauf. She’s the daughter of the famed American sculpter, Charles Umlauf. Much of his life’s work can be found at the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum in Austin. Farrah Fawcett modeled for Madelon’s father while she was his student. She was quite a talented artist/sculptor and I think that art was her first love. But she was just so damn, breathtakingly beautiful that her art was overshadowed her looks, making her best known as an actress and the woman who changed poster popularity! Anyway, both Madelon and Raul encouraged me to reach beyond Texas for my education and career, so I strategically applied to art schools in New York, California, and Illinois. I was accepted into all of them. This was as a complete affirmation that made me think, “Okay, I’m not crazy. My parents love me and are simply trying to protect from a life of uncertainty. This is pretty cool right? I mean, everybody wants me!” I received a couple of grants and awards based upon my portfolio from the School of Visual Arts in NYC and subsequently graduated with honors. The only painter to do so for the 2002 year.

Everybody still wants you and not just for your paintings. You’re a sculptor of bodies as well?

Yes, it is true (laughs). I am a personal trainer, too. Truthfully, working as a trainer is not so dissimilar to my painting. I think of both in terms of layers. Layering paint or creating healthy layers for a skeleton, healthy mental layers, and all those things that go into creating health. I have done cadaver labs and worked with some of the best professionals in the field to further my understanding of human anatomy, mechanics, and function. Applying the appropriate protocol for the unique individuals that I work with requires this deep level of understanding. After all, they are all works of art.

Don’t be shy, these aren't just “any bodies” you’re sculpting. Is it true that you are the go-to for Royalty, like the Duchess of York?

All of my clients are awesome, but yes, I’ve done sweat care for the Duchess of York and put a pump or two together for both Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice. What many people don’t understand about “Dutch” is that her job is very demanding and she does an extensive amount of charity work all over the globe. So I’m sure she would love to see me more often, but our schedules are our schedules, right?

So back to the drawing board so to speak: How can one recognize a work by Sherri Cobb?

It’s hard to classify my work as one type of art. It’s part Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Color Field sprinkled with a Baroque attitude. If you blow them all through a cannon, you get a Sherri Cobb. My gestures are very specific and unique to me, be it painting with full-shoulder expression, wrist articulation, or me physically standing atop a canvas to create “worlds.” I alter a viewer’s experience with my art through the use of color and gestures. Life shows up there. The, “I exist!” mentality that we all share in common is there too. Arizona shows up in the theme of color arrangements, life on the island in Florida shows up in the sublime sfumatos—the gradual haze between color shifts. There is mystery. I think someone who understands that color projects space unique to technique, process, and color experience will be able to spot my work.

So for those who might not fully understand color at that level, how do you explain it?

While pursuing my MFA, I took ‘Color Seminar’ a color theory class with the Dean of the Art Department at Hunter College. Sanford Wurmfeld, a wonderful color field painter who made me see and understand color in a whole new way; and it’s difficult to fully describe! From a fitness perspective, an elbow doesn’t simply bend, there are 4,000 variants of elbow “bending” known as flexion. What if I could patiently put onto canvas 4,000 tones of blue? I mean, how experiential would that be to do something that could create an abyss for the viewer?! Because you’ll never know what it’s like to be in an abyss. So you can imagine the idea of beauty and sublime pushed into one moment. I use color in a way to elicit a type of joy, to be fully immersed in a particular expression of color.

What’s the concept behind the painting we lovingly chopped up to constitute this Cetuvi series?

Given the process in which I paint, staining raw canvas, we weren’t sure how the protective epoxy would react, so Jefferson at Cetuvi wanted to test a sample. I don’t do anything half-assed so instead of sending the 2” x 2” sample requested, I decided to staple a full 2’ x 6’ canvas to my studio floor and use the opportunity to play with my wavelength theory, contrast, and this idea of tipping points. Tipping point theory, or when something is in a state of crescendo, be it music, an emotional climax in a movie, or an ocean wave, there is this amazingly intense arc just before it releases. Within the sample that I sent Jefferson, I used carbon black against a light canvas to drive home the dramatic dichotomy. And the softness of the blues sluices out of the black, suggesting the release and ease. This contrast is reinforced by the materials, with the canvas being raw and unfinished and the surface of the handbags being sleek and refined. Displaying and preserving art in this way is in itself a ‘tipping point.’ When Cetuvi received my test sample, they loved the rawness of it and thought the simplicity of color would translate beautifully into a collection. So we all decided to use it for a preview release, leaving in all of the wonderful marks left behind when one pioneers something, be it the random staple dimples, pencil lines from playing around with handbag template cuts, or salvaging the canvas scraps to create a portion of the collection we playfully titled, “Fringe Benefits.”

What made the idea of doing a Cetuvi collection appeal to you?

I was immediately drawn to the quality and craftsmanship, obviously. But what appealed to me most is the idea of softening presentation and what we expect from art and the art world. The idea of taking an authentic, original work by an artist with a distinguishable mark and converting it into a movable piece, like Hemmingway’s, “Moveable Feast.” I mean, it’s a collaboration, right? It’s two ideas coming into one. As a process-oriented painter, how I arrive upon my work is very important. I have these rituals and personal rules so that they can create a dialogue. But I wanted to be open to breaking these rules in the name of the same end goal. Cetuvi handbags are breaking the mold in the way art can be presented and communicated. I love the appeal of that.

Well, collaboration seems to be an important hallmark for you, tell us a little about Sherri Cobb Gallery Presents.

‘SCGP’ is a way for me to share my studio space: Backwater Studios here in Bushwick, Brooklyn (NYC) with other artists. It’s an open call if you will. Artists can come to me with an art project, idea, or exhibit. Once a month I have an opening featuring a select artist. It is a curated show that has already created a buzz and healthy network of community. It mimics this mantra I have which is to soften the idea of art presentation in the gallery setting. It brings it back into the home of the actual studio where it’s made. I think people seem to be more comfortable to talk about art in a space where there’s a wood shop, chop saw, hammers, and canvas rolled up in the corner. At my openings it is very fascinating to see the conversations that take place within my art space. I’ve experienced conversations for years in gallery settings, where it’s more formal and those conversations tend to play out in a way that can leave everyone a little frustrated or even guarded. During my events, everybody’s in a different mindset, and the setting is carefree, loving even. This space relieves all the pressures of talking about pricing and buying. Maybe I’m completely off point. All I know is that I want to come at ‘Art’ from a different angle. There are talented artists out there unknown to many that I think are really interesting. These are the folks that I will endlessly try to empower and advocate through SCGP. Whether these creators are making hot sauce or art, I am here for those who possess the passion and are open to collaboration. The same goes for this exciting endeavor with Cetuvi. I believe in this project with Jefferson and am beyond excited.

Whoa, you hear that? {music from a NYC street brass band kicks up in the background as we end the call.}

Yeah. The party has started.