ICYMI: Tony Scherman: Heroes, Ghosts, and Dreams

Step into the swirl of conversations between icons of history in the form of monumental multi-faceted portraits. Tony Scherman: Heroes, Ghosts, and Dreams was a stirring collection born from the Canadian artist’s intimate knowledge of his subjects.

“There is something very much alive in these works,” says Dr. Stephen Borys, WAG Director & CEO and exhibition curator.

The WAG’s relationship with Tony Scherman was strengthened in 2009 when the artist, who has a great respect for Western arts communities, donated 11 carefully curated paintings. Then in 2018, the Gallery received an important donation of six paintings from his About 1865 series, a gift from Ian and Catherine (Kiki) Delaney. Borys was blown away by the portraits of American Civil War Generals Grant, Lee, and Sherman, along with that of Abraham Lincoln, juxtaposed with paintings of two unidentified African American women at the Delaney residence. When he travelled to Richmond, Virginia for a meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors, he walked down Monument Avenue, which features a number of controversial statues dedicated to the Confederate veterans of the Civil War, and the idea for the exhibition emerged.

Having secured a few key loans to expand the story, the WAG presented portraits evoking issues brimming at society’s surface, in a rare public gallery exhibition of Scherman’s works. Two of the key works, portraits of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, appeared timeless as their messages remain so important today. The artist examines all aspects of social conflicts and ongoing repercussions.

Portraiture today is not the go-to genre, as it has been largely replaced by photography, yet it is essential to Scherman’s work. It is amazing how quickly he captures the subject. These paintings have a tactile, physical presence. Scherman is committed to encaustic, a wax and pigment mixture. “His use of an ancient technique as a contemporary artist sets him apart in Canada and his generation,” said Borys.

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