Sheridan Prize for Art

First Place, Women Artists

The following is a review of the work I submitted after I won:

Read Former San Francisco Bay Guardian Critic Harry Roche’s Essay On The Winning Artist.

The painter, sculptor, art therapist and writer Ayris Hatton has been showing her work in the San Francisco Bay Area since the mid 1980s.  Her art explores Realism and the identifiable depiction of things in the world the eye could be expected to see.  But while identifiable, her imagery is transformed by the application of paint that resides between detailed realism but more often is closer to a semi-abstract and looser evocation.

The winning work in the 2022 Sheridan Prize for Art in the Women Artists’ group is titled “Four Candles”.  This work, with its calm, almost meditative horizontal array of complementary-colored orange candles against a blue, blue-violet table and background exudes a quiet and contemplative light that seems to actually flicker in the mind’s eye.  This quietude is somewhat in contrast to the range of other work Ayris included in the Prize for Art and which works appear to have been chosen to show us some of the varying range of her subject matter and technical interests.

Other of the works the artist showed in the Prize for Art included the very frontal head of a man in pastel that is very different in approach, taking advantage of the drier, almost wiry medium of pastel than “Four Candles” which utilizes a smoother, wetter, brushier technique.

Another work the artist included was of a sleeping woman who is menaced by a very large, very sharp toothed bear at her bedroom window, presenting a different kind of emotional and symbolic statement of unanticipated imminent danger.  Yet another work is a watercolor landscape in deep blues, reds and yellows, Mt. Tamalpais in the background, with a waxing crescent moon above, its brush strokes retaining the wetness of the medium as it was applied and which imply the restlessness of the water as she witnessed it.

The cultural and artistic background of the works seen by this artist in the Prize for Art embraces Modernist ambiguity, in that the relatively loose brushwork can be seen as depicting the scene before it, rather faithfully or convincingly, but also in that the strokes of her brush can be seen as independent of the subject and be seen as sensual or even intellectual statements that have their own existence.

“Four Candles” in its symbolic warmth, each candle almost seeming to retain a human quality quietly inhabiting the space, all in a row – of people whose patient, waiting, watching spirits are also glowing from within, give a very pleasing, living aspect to the composition.   The underpainting can just be seen even in the over-painted candles as if to emphasize the technical desire of the artist to show some of just how the work was painted, allowing us to see the surface of the paint below as it influences the texture of the orange, red and yellow candles painted on top. 

Ayris Hatton’s work pushes in different directions, with the subject matter influencing the technique she uses.  Or perhaps vice versa.  The works she includes in the Women Artists group are not overtly or obviously politically oriented but they reside comfortably in this group of women artists submitted among which were a large number of very well made works of which “Four Candles” definitely holds its own.

~ ~    John Sheridan