The Yellow Brick Road not taken

The display in Blue Spiral 1’s street-level gallery has a definite weight to it. Interconnected ceramic works by Kenneth Baskin hold a somber dialogue with Ward H. Nichols’ hyper-realistic paintings, creating a muted and sparse feel.

Micah Sherrill’s “Evidence of Things Unseen” is just one of his series exploring the iconic characters and situations in The Wizard of Oz.

Only a few feet away in the Small Format Gallery, however, the situation couldn’t be more different. In that tiny room, something bright and delightful is happening.

There, viewers are presented with images of green-faced witches, magic wands, ruby slippers—all glistening with red sparkles and gold leaf. The room holds only seven works, most consisting of a small painting inserted into a larger and more complex background. Two pieces break with this format, rotating to reveal new images on the opposite side. On many of them, the familiar faces of the characters from The Wizard of Oz—the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Wicked Witch of the West—beam out at the viewer in brilliant Technicolor-like renderings.

Black Mountain-based artist Micah Sherrill creates these seemingly bejeweled works from humble materials like plywood, tiny nails and multiple layers of paint. His love of film, particularly his fascination with its iconic characters, is dazzlingly evident.

“To me, filmmaking is the highest art,” Sherrill says. “In filmmaking you create a whole world, not just a moment in time.”

The son of well-known ceramist Michael Sherrill, the artist recalls that his interest in film began at age 9, when his father would rent movies for his two young children as a way of keeping them entertained while he worked. “It was cheaper to rent three videos than to hire a babysitter,” Sherrill says. “So my sister and I watched lots of movies.”

The Wizard of Oz, in particular, has a special significance for Sherrill; his family watched it at least once a year. And that’s not the artist’s only association with the film. He recalls that he “got the phone call from the hospital telling me that I had a little sister in the middle of watching The Wizard of Oz.”

In fact, Oz‘s characters have “meaning to everyone I know,” he says. “The ideas they express are almost theological. I love the idea that Glenda put the shoes on Dorothy without giving her a choice. It was destiny; Dorothy had no control. Then, when the Wicked Witch wants them, she can’t take them.”

These concepts are illustrated wonderfully by works like “Gift of Going Home,” which shows Dorothy’s blue-and-white-checkered skirt as Glenda’s magic wand swings by her bobby socks toward her glitter-encrusted ruby slippers. The painting revolves to show a glowing ball of light blocking the bilious green hands of the malevolent witch reaching greedily for the shoes.

But the ruby-colored shoes are cast in a slightly different light in “Red Ransom.” Here, the life-sized slippers are ringed by a gold circle inside a patterned background of blue forms.

Not surprisingly, a multi-media approach is vital to Sherrill. The artist says that “just painting” would “bore me out of my mind. I have too much fun with materials not to play with them.”

He begins the pieces by working up the backgrounds, carving patterns and then covering them with as many as eight layers of paint. He then sands the paint down, sometimes all the way back to the surface of the wood. Then comes the application of the nails, a slow process which Sherrill proudly recalls having done for as much as 16 hours at a stretch. He says that, as the backgrounds become richer and more complex, the painting must become more detailed “just to keep up.”

Although these works present a strong theme, Sherrill points out that the series isn’t completed yet. The last work in his exploration of Oz will echo the movie’s least forgettable image: that of Toto stuck fast in the clutches of a flying monkey.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]

who: Works by Micah Sherrill
what: Mixed media
where: Blue Spiral 1’s Small Format Gallery
when: On display through Saturday, Aug. 30 (www.bluespiral1.com or 251-0202)

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