Estate of Sheba Sharrow


The artist, Sheba Sharrow, was born in Brooklyn in 1926, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents and was raised in Chicago.  While in high school, she was awarded a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where she ultimately earned a BFA.  She said: “The smell of oil paint was like perfume to me” and that the very high praise she received in that era was that she “painted like a man.”

Sharrow has been thought of often as being a part of the “Chicago School” of imagist painters, fitting generationally into the “Monster Roster” group of artists from that city, including the most well-known of her classmates who lead the charge of image and ideas over pure abstraction, Leon Golub and Nancy Spero.  Yet there are significantly unique elements to Sharrow’s work which hold her somewhat apart.  Sharrow’s style clearly acknowledges (and embraces) the strength that gesture and color could contribute to the metaphorical and storytelling aspect of her work, as did other painters of the time, such as the British born Leon Kossoff and the German born Frank Auerbach.  Add to that the occasional inclusion of text, which she often drew from poetry, and the resultant works are refined and delicate.

In the milieu of the dominance of Abstract Expressionism beginning in the 1950s, which actively rebelled against identifiable “meaning,” Sharrow remained grounded in a humanist tradition and a social context.   Writer Amy Fine Collins linked “her sensibility to German Expressionism”; curator and writer Alejandro Anreus placed her “in the company of Goya, Kollwitz, Beckman and Orozco.”

She was a child of the Great Depression as well as a witness and participant in the social justice movements of the 1960s and 70s. Her work consistently displays a profound awareness of conditions beyond gender, class and nation – our human condition, animated by desire and vulnerability, power and mortality, warfare and spirituality.  Despite the seriousness of these subjects, she chose never to distance herself from beauty: the grace, strength and balance of the human form, nor to inhibit the exuberance of her palette and brush.

Sharrow received her BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. She went on to become a 1951 Alumna of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), and earn an MFA at the Tyler School of the Arts at Temple University.  Among the grants and awards received were those from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the N.J. State Council on the Arts, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Sharrow was a 3X Joan Mitchell Foundation Award nominee. Her work has been exhibited in over 30 solo shows, at museums, universities and galleries.

Sharrow died in 2006.