A considerable shift occurred in Shari Phoenix's art five years ago. More focused on painting the finer things in life back then, the Barbadian artist turned her attention to the ideas of perfection, beauty and societal views on black bodies. Her artworks take a bold approach, pushing the limits of conventions of a longstanding painting genre. Rather than having deformed or monstrous bodies, Shari depicts beautiful portraits distorted by the history of black representation and beauty across media.
We got the chance to speak about her work.
Raskal: What drew you to be a contemporary grotesque artist?
Shari: Until the 2nd year of my BFA program, my style was a little more go-happy and fun. The one thing that remained consistent is my love for portraiture and the human body. What I would say really led me down this road with my work is the video for Jay-Z - Story of OJ and his use of the caricature. From a young age, I had always loved cartoons, and during this time, I was doing research for my main project for the program and started to research further and further into the characteristics of Black Caricatures and caricatures in general. The caricatures made an appearance in my work but were ultimately taken out as I focused more on the qualities of the caricatures, like the over-exaggeration of features and so on. It wasn’t until 2020, during the Black Lives Matter movement that the caricatures reappeared in my work with the function that they have now.
Raskal: Are there any specific artists that have influenced you?
Shari: Several artists have influenced me, such as Kara Walker. I found myself infatuated with her work from my B.C.C art history days. The same can be said about painters from the Renaissance era or the neo-classical era - I am obsessed with their use of light and shadow and details they produced on pearls, dresses, and other jewellery and even the way they painted the skin. I love painters such as Joseph Karl Stieler, Rembrandt, Jan van Eyck and Gil Elvgren - a pin-up artist, whose works were used for my pin-up rebel series.
Raskal: How did you come up with the distinctive elements that characterize your work?
Shari: The elements for the masks and the Jim Crow lips are the characteristics of the black racist caricatures of the 1920s to 1960s - the over-exaggerated features of the body, such as hair or the wrinkling of skin.
Raskal: What is the feeling or emotion that you want viewers to feel and why?
Shari: I want my people to look at my work and ask important questions about themselves or society. I want my work to become a catalyst for change and inspire the masses to navigate those difficult questions or conversations we tend to avoid, because we simply don’t want to or we are scared of the outcome. I try to evoke the emotions I feel while creating these pieces: anger, sadness, anguish and so on.
Raskal: What other themes do you want to explore in the future?
Shari: I'm not sure - I'm sort of a go with the flow kind of artist. Whatever is in the wind and I feel strongly about is the base of my work. I feel so strong about that I need to get it out. I can also see myself looking at Black Beauty from a more conventional point of view for the love of painting portraits.