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Humor, Sensuality and Whimsy


03_dillidiidae_2014

Sharon Engelstein

Sharon Engelstein

Exploring The Elements Of Sharon Engelstein’s Art

By Cheryl Alexander

Sharon Engelstein’s most public and permanent Houston installation resides in Hermann Park. It is pink, bubbly and curious, and its name is “Dillidiidae.” Sharon was inspired to this shape to some degree by a creature with a similar name, the armadillidiidae, better known to most of us as the “roly poly.” Sharon said she was also inspired by the actual location in the park where the sculpture is set — next to a playground. She says, “I wanted the kids on the playground to see the art, respond to it and want to run to it, touch it and climb on it.”

When the Weingarten Art Group and Hermann Park Conservancy commissioned Sharon to create the piece, they too, must have seen her vision clearly and realized the effect it would have on visitors. In fact, one might surmise that the effect Sharon’s art has on those who experience it is what defines her as an artist. Her art is at once recognizable due to its shape and form. One might also assume that the art on display at Hermann Park is her claim to fame. That conclusion, however, would be incorrect.

Sharon’s art story began when she was a child. Raised in Canada by Romanian emigrants who were not artistic, Sharon was allowed to explore the creative side of her nature. She said, “My parents didn’t understand 100 percent what being an artist meant, but they were 100 percent supportive.” She tinkered, she created, she made stuff and in college she graduated with a double major — journalism and art. It was during her undergraduate studies at University of South Florida where she met her husband, Aaron Parazette in her art classes. Since he, too, was an artist, their association propelled her art forward.

The two of them decided to attend graduate school, so they applied to several programs. They finally settled on Claremont Graduate University in California as they wanted to study on the West Coast and it was a school that accepted them both. They finished in the early ‘90s; Sharon with a master’s degree in sculpture. However, the economy wasn’t ripe for artists, so the creative couple continued to focus on their education. They applied for a two-year CORE residency at the Museum of Fine Art Houston, got accepted and moved to Houston.

The CORE Experience

“CORE was a laboratory for artists,” explained Sharon. “There were a lot of us experimenting, testing, and learning who we are as artists. Because the CORE program gave me extra time and served as a sheltered place for me to explore, it was priceless in my evolution as an artist. I really benefited from being a part of such a dynamic community.”

CORE also puts its participants in the spotlight for galleries and curators to take notice, and Sharon had lots of opportunities to show her work. One of the most important places where she had a solo show was the Contemporary Arts Museum. Since then, she’s enjoyed recognition nationally, from Miami’s Locust Project to New Jersey’s The Grounds for Sculpture to an exhibition at Louisiana State University, and more.

Though Sharon is known for her bubbly, soft, rounded forms in ceramics or inflatables, she has always used a wide range of materials. She explains that the work she takes on generates more ideas; the idea then dictates what materials to use. “My work is fabrication; material-oriented work,” she said. Through material exploration, she found relationships between the organic and mechanical elements of art which have generated “a lifetime of ideas.”

In 2000, Sharon experienced a defining moment in her career when she began experimenting with computer-aided design or 3-D modeling. She downloaded some free 3-D modeling software and started to play. She soon came to think of her designs as finished sculptures trapped in the computer. “There was an exactness that I really wanted to replicate,” she said.

She posted on an online bulletin board asking for help in outputting 3-D models and immediately began receiving responses from engineers interested in new challenges. With this new technology, her large blimp-like sculptures were born. Her first monumental work was at Glassell School where they wanted something site-specific. Each complex form in that venue and many thereafter was built out of simple geometric shapes of spheres, cylinders and ovoids without reference to the natural world.

Sharon’s art is rather stark and monochromatic in color. “I mostly use color as an accent,” she said. “Not the way a painter uses it, but as a sculptor. The figures in Hermann Park, for example, are the color of skin. They are creatures.”

And her art is otherworldly, even when it is suggestive of more life-like objects. Recently the Houston Art Alliance asked Sharon to create a piece to commemorate the Houston Ship Channel’s 100th anniversary. She fashioned a tug-boat inspired shape titled “Tuggles” which has popped up at different events around the city where folks are gathering to celebrate the occasion. She said, “It’s so interesting that even in the context of a specific celebratory event, some people ask ‘what is that?’ when they see it.”

A Show in March

Sharon’s 2012 exhibition at Devin Borden Gallery demonstrated a balance between whimsical and stunning, anthropomorphic and abstract. The centerpiece of the exhibition was a multi-tiered platform of white Styrofoam blocks topped with 10 mostly cream-colored ceramic pieces accented with light glazes, wax and quartz. From afar, the unusual compilation was evocative of an island of toys made of ice. Up close, however, their sensual textures expressed the unique character of each. Some are wide-eyed innocents; others have split personalities that somehow gel.

Her upcoming show is comprised mostly of drawings. She explained that as she is thinking about her sculptures, a sort of freeze-frame of images is collected in her mind — images that she wants to go back to and finish at some point. In the meantime, they are works of art which can stand alone. This show, too, is at Devin Borden Gallery and opens March 6.

Sharon also supports fellow artists in her own gallery, located in the front room of her home. The space is appropriately called Front Gallery. The next show at Front opens on Feb. 14 with work by Susan Whyne, a well-established and revered artist from Austin. Whyne will be exhibiting small works on paper, wall reliefs and hand-made jewelry. Most of the work is from her series called “Perpetuity,” which she began in 2005. The paintings are scenarios enacting a kind of “memento mori,” reinterpreting actual cemetery architecture and floral bouquets she encountered in Oaxaca, Mexico, with domestic furniture and fashion depicted in interior design magazines.

For more information on Sharon Engelstein, visit sharonengelstein.com. For more information on her home gallery, visit frontgallery.com.

“Dillidiidae” 2014. Concrete shell over CNC milled foam, Hermann Park.

“Dillidiidae” 2014. Concrete shell over CNC milled foam, Hermann Park.

“Tuggles,” Thanksgiving day parade, 2014.

“Tuggles,” Thanksgiving day parade, 2014.

11x12x15 feet, vinyl and air, commissioned by Houston Arts Alliance.

11x12x15 feet, vinyl and air, commissioned by Houston Arts Alliance.

“Transmama” 2003. 10x10x10 feet, vinyl coated nylon and forced air.

“Transmama” 2003. 10x10x10 feet, vinyl coated nylon and forced air.

“Seeker” 2012. 11x7x14 feet, vinyl coated nylon and forced air, commissioned by the Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, New Jersey.

“Seeker” 2012. 11x7x14 feet, vinyl coated nylon and forced air, commissioned by the Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, New Jersey.

“Green Golly” 2008. 15x10x15 feet, vinyl coated nylon and forced air, commissioned by the Evergreen Museum and Library, Baltimore.

“Green Golly” 2008. 15x10x15 feet, vinyl coated nylon and forced air, commissioned by the Evergreen Museum and Library, Baltimore.

“Possibility” 2012. 7x10x18 inches, ceramic, glaze, poured wax.

“Possibility” 2012. 7x10x18 inches, ceramic, glaze, poured wax.

“Mystic” 2015. 22x17 inches, Ink on paper.

“Mystic” 2015. 22×17 inches, Ink on paper.

“Feel Fine” 2012. 15 x 10 x 10 inches Ceramic, Glaze, epoxy putty, glass eye.

“Feel Fine” 2012. 15 x 10 x 10 inches Ceramic, Glaze, epoxy putty, glass eye.

“b'bleb” 2002. 11x15 x15 feet, vinyl coated nylon and forced air, commissioned by Locust Projects, Miami .

“b’bleb” 2002. 11×15 x15 feet, vinyl coated nylon and forced air, commissioned by Locust Projects, Miami .

Humor, Sensuality and Whimsy


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