A few years ago, visitors to Madeline Sherry's studio in Downtown's Brokers Building Gallery would've seen mostly large, emotive abstract paintings. It wasn't until 2011, after a local curator showed interest in her infrequent figurative works, that Sherry, an abstract expressionist at her roots, decided to set abstract art aside for a while and focus on a series of paintings based on advertisements and photographs from Life magazine.
Sherry had stacks of the magazines from the 1940s and '50s, and she always knew she wanted to do something with them. Inspired by the magazine's subtle-yet-effective advertisements, she saw the idealized images of America as propaganda that ultimately affected her personally.
"I was just a baby in the '40s, but my family life and the way I was raised were impacted by all this advertising," she says. "The way we dressed, the moral code, it was all pictured in these images that show a magical place we'd all like to be."
Sherry sometimes inserts modern-day objects and people into the paintings, a comment on how some things have drastically changed. In one piece, she's replaced a mother carrying a tray of Schlitz beer with a transvestite, who looks right at home supplying the party with cold refreshments.
"I think by doing that, in a way, it can show how we are, where we are today," she says.
Sherry debuted the paintings in a solo show that opened at the now-defunct Pulse Gallery in early 2013. "Carnival Club," the piece featured on CityBeat's cover this week, was one of the large-scale anchor pieces in that show. It was inspired by a photograph that illustrated an article in Life that Sherry thinks had something to do with war bonds. The expressions on the faces of the people looking up at the girls onstage were what caught the artist's eye.
"I don't really remember the article at all," she says. "But the image was hot."
Sherry's figurative series has received an enthusiastic response. Since the opening at Pulse, she's been offered other shows and has sold several pieces. Her work will be part of Art2go, a group show that opens from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19, at the Brokers Building (402 Market St.).
While she says she misses the freedom and pleasure she experiences when painting abstract work, she doesn't think she can go back to it just yet.
"I have to keep doing this because things are coming up and people want that kind of work," she says. "They're not really after my abstract work, so what are you going to do, you know?"