The seductive allure of Sharon Booma's paintings defies description. Viewing one of the artist's oil and mixed media inventions, one feels an attraction to surface beauty, the pull of colour and texture, and then the plunge into deeper mystery. Booma's keen sense of balance finds harmony in disarray and between dissimilar elements and unusual juxtapositions. As an artist, she is an explorer, wading through the layers of chaos and attempts at order that overlap and shape human experience.
Booma's journeys yield paintings that link the known and the unknown or, in her words, 'the tangible materials that surround us and the ungraspable spiritualism that defines us as individually unique people'. The 'ungraspable spiritualism' to which Booma alludes recalls Wordworth's meditation on the soul. When considering Booma's work, one might think of the poet, who found words to describe nearly indescribable states of mind. There is poetry in Booma's paintings, and in them one can find intimations of distant shores.
In March 2007, Booma's works were shown in a solo exhibit at the Campton Gallery in New York's Soho district. Campton Gallery director Ronda Esser explained that a bit of serendipity played a part in Booma's appearance at the gallery. 'Sharon came to our notice as a referral from one of our other artists and the effect of her work has been thrilling,' Esser said. The opening drew many of Booma's collectors and admirers, as well as those lured into the gallery by the shimmering images seen through the gallery's front window. As tremulous flashes of light touched the surfaces of the solid panels, viewers were caught between a concentrated physicality and an equally strong but elusive delicacy rooted in emotion, memory and imagination. Once inside the gallery, they discovered several large paintings and groups of smaller works enticing them further into Booma's intimate world. With multiple layers of pigment, Booma orchestrates a dynamic interplay of light and shadow, surface and depth, inserting sections of steel as focal points to anchor the whole.
Discovering Booma's paintings feels a bit like tumbling into a surprising wonderland. Encountering her work for the first time is, as Esser said, 'thrilling' because of its immediate and comfortable intimacy. Booma’s sense and handling of colour is, perhaps, the most distinguishing aspect of her work. Certainly, it is the most intriguing. The artist cites Henri Matisse, leader of the French Fauve movement, as a major influence. Matisse had an unwavering commitment to colour as a means to communicate deep feeling, profound meaning and subtle states of consciousness; colour, projected through shape and form, as an expression of the full range of human emotions.
Robert Motherwell’s work is another touchstone. Like Motherwell, Booma has simplified the forms in her paintings, while she intensifies her gaze on colour and brush stroke. For Motherwell, painting was a journey from the conscious to the unconscious, from the physical world to the world of dreams. The titles he chose for his works linked these realms. Booma pays homage to him, particularly, by following his example with evocative titles that are remarkably precise. 'Perfect Clarity', 'Indelible Marks', 'Something About Solitude' and 'Night Sweeps the Sky', for example, serve better than any adjectives to describe the works.
Booma grew up as one of five children near Hartford, Connecticut. As a child, she recalls, she watched her father draw cartoons in the margins of his newspaper. From that time, she set herself the task of learning how to draw well and, while others her age moved from one playtime activity to another, she patiently worked at her drawings. During her teenage years, she took art courses, won school art awards and, after graduating from high school, enrolled at the University of Connecticut, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in fine arts. After graduation, she worked as a graphic artist in Connecticut and, later, as an art director in Baltimore, Maryland.
For the past 20 years, Booma has concentrated on painting and exhibited at galleries across the country. Her resume includes solo shows at LewAllen Contemporary in Santa Fe, New Mexico, CaldwellSnyder Gallery in San Francisco, Campton Gallery in New York City, Anderson O'Brien Fine Art in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Arden Gallery in Boston. Today, she lives with her family in the Boston area. In this interview, Booma discusses developing as an artist, committing to painting as a career and creating harmony out of chaos.
Cindi Di Marzo: Although your father drew, your family did not include any working artists. Were there teachers or other mentors who encouraged you to see yourself as an artist and consider art as a career?
Sharon Booma: I have always been self-motivated. As a young girl, I remember being determined to learn how to draw, so one Christmas I asked for a drawing book and went through it page by page. There was no question that I would enrol in art classes once they were offered in school. I was fascinated by the magic of contour drawing in a seventh grade art class. The teacher told us to imagine a connection from our eyes to the tip of the pencil while viewing an object. What transpired was a true, beautiful line, though the shape might seem a bit strange at first. I learned that by examining an object and its relationship to the space around it, a wondrous drawing could develop. In college, a couple of art professors made a deep and lasting impression on me, but I think that I decided on my own that I was going to make art my career. Although I had a fine arts degree, to earn a living right away, I learned the mechanics of graphic art from a friend. For a number of years, I worked for commercial art firms while I continued to paint at home.
CDM: Which artists served as inspiration as you developed your skills and style?
SB: I would say that Matisse's masterful use of colour, Van Gogh's expressive textural paint strokes, Motherwell's simplicity of statement and sense of architectural structure, and how the Impressionists captured light all entered my thinking. In a course I took on colour and design, taught by Paul Zelanski, he told us to choose a painting done by a master and reproduce it. I chose a Van Gogh piece that looked simple, but I found I was shocked by the complexity of colour. This project forced me to think about the basic components of colour and to really look. Matisse once said, 'I should like people to know that they cannot approach colour as though it held open house, that you must go through a strict preparation to be worthy of it. But first of all it is clear that one must have a gift for colour, as a singer must have a voice.'
CDM: You have mentioned Matisse and the Fauves as major influences. I see in your work touches of the Fauves - intense colour, vigorous application of paint - but also the shifting light and forms that the Impressionists tried so hard to capture on canvas. It seems as if you have found a way to reconcile these approaches.
SB: When I was a little girl, I became aware that colours change optical consistency, although I didn't know the colour theory behind it. I told everyone that my dad had blue hair because of the blue highlights I saw in his dark hair while he stood in the light. I was aware from that point on that colours change all of the time. Perhaps growing up in New England afforded me a chance to see quick changes of light, which also changed from season to season. Just as the Impressionists were painting for themselves, I found that making art for myself was the best approach. Matisse was not afraid to experiment with his art. It takes a great deal of self-belief to try new things. I had to find a way to make the intense colour and shifting light feel like a conversation, not a speech.
CDM: When did you first encounter Motherwell's works? Can you describe the effect they had on you and your perception of how abstraction freed him to explore other states of consciousness?
SB: I believe that I first saw some reprints of Motherwell's works in one of my college studio classes. Seeing them gave me a sense of freedom, permission to try new things that opened up avenues for my own abstraction. Motherwell was just one of many artists who helped to expand my own vision.
CDM: You mentioned that you studied with Paul Zelanski at the University of Connecticut. The books on colour and design that he wrote with his wife, Mary Pat Fisher, are used in art schools internationally. How did his theories inform your work as an art director and painter?1
SB: Professor Zelanski's theories on colour and design gave me a deeper understanding of the manifestations of colour, form and composition and, more importantly, the confidence to work with it. He made the class aware if elements of colour and design didn't work together. In our free studies, those elements had to be integrated. Zelanski was a tough teacher who expected a great deal of his students. This course exposed me to an unknown world, and the experience permeated my sensibilities. His theories became my own and are the foundation of my approach to all of my work. Those same theories became a part of my artistic viewpoint. He taught me the basics and I built on them. I took this knowledge, these fundamentals, and added my own emotional stamp. One of the methods Zelanski used in his classroom was to answer a question with a story, in an attempt to get our minds to question more and to see that there might not be just one answer. He felt that if he could get us to think, we could find our own answers.
CDM: More readers will be familiar with the style in which you are now working. Can you trace a path from the work you were doing when you first began to exhibit to this point? Was there a pivotal moment when all of your influences and the experiments you were doing on your own coalesced into a form that you felt truly expressed your range as an artist?
SB: From the mid to late eighties, I made abstract construction pieces that dealt with my interest in creating spatial exploration. My fascination with windows and doors, those mysterious black holes, defined my approach to my early pieces. I was inspired, had faith and a genuine desire to realise and know myself, to follow my instincts. This instinct led me to strip away everything that was not essential in my painting without losing its sensuality or beautiful light. That was a good starting point. I think that the pivotal moment when influences and experiments coalesced was after we moved to Chicago. I had the opportunity to work quietly for months on two paintings. The process of creating my own vision became more refined and began to speak to me in its simplification. A true dialogue began, and I knew I had found my direction. I still have the two paintings I worked on then because they represent this important shift in my visual thinking. Now, each step I take is a stepping stone for future work. The pattern has been for the present to create a dynamic for the future; it's a continually evolving process.
CDM: While working first as a graphic artist and then as an art director, you continued to paint in a home studio. When did you decide to paint full time? Has the change affected your sense of yourself as an artist? Has your work changed in response?
SB: While working as an art director in Connecticut, our house, including my studio, burned to the ground. The frailty of life, its uncertainty, became clear and I abandoned the graphic work completely. I started to concentrate on my painting full-time, entered juried shows and eventually started working with galleries. Certainly, working exclusively as a painter allows me to focus completely on the work. I have learned that time is short and I must take what gifts I have, what I have discovered, and move forward without hesitation.
CDM: In your works, colour, texture, form and feeling function as players in an orchestra, with individual elements coming to the fore at particular points in the viewing. But there is an overriding sense of balance and harmony, and that is, for me, the sense that remains as the most profound impression. Can you explain your views of creating balance; finding harmony within a chaos of forms; and how that mirrors human experience?
SB: Creating balance and harmony is an intuitive effort. My view is a completely visual one; words are not a part of it. I have to trust myself to know when a piece works, when harmony is created after the visual experience is completed to my satisfaction. Everything has to fit, to be in its proper place. My work addresses the human experience in its search for balance and harmony, elements we are searching for in our own particular way in our lives. I am an intuitive painter whose instincts are to make rational and objective choices; therefore, I work rigorously to remain open to the element of controlled chance. It is a matter of constantly making decisions at every stage. When the creative process really succeeds, it eliminates the surrounding extraneous distractions and the artwork seems to emerge as if in a dream.
CDM: Where can readers find your works in the coming months, and can you give us a preview of your activities for 2008?
SB: December 2007 will find me in a show with Philip Pearlstein at Gallery Camino Real in Boca Raton, Florida; March 2008 at LewAllen Contemporary in Santa Fe; and September 2008 at CaldwellSnyder in San Francisco and Napa, California.
Cindi Di Marzo
1. Among Paul Zelanski and Mary Pat Fisher's books are: Design Principles and Problems (2nd edition, 1984), Color (5th edition, 2006), Shaping Space (3rd edition, 2007) and The Art of Seeing (7th edition, 2007).
For more information on Sharon Booma, go to http://www.sharonbooma.com/