83 Sharon Que


Born Sharon Querciograssa, Detroit, MI, 1960 / BFA, University of Michigan; Associate, Manufacturing Engineering, Macomb Community College / Lives in Ann Arbor, MI

Works of art communicate in myriad ways: some shout, some whisper, some never shut up. Sharon Que’s constructions seem only to cast meaningful glances, encouraging, cajoling, even daring the viewer to suss out what lies behind them.

These elegant, often playful works seem familiar, as if one had seen them somewhere before. They exude whiffs of history and utility, of alchemy and manufacturing, of harmonies and dissonances. Their references range from surrealist juxtapositions to trompe l’oeil to craft traditions. Que experiments with scale, materials, and varying levels of abstraction to create works that are meditations on objects and systems from the microscopic to the cosmic.

Que has been making objects for more than thirty years. She credits her awakening as an artist as a consequence of her eye-opening travels to Italy, Greece, and Turkey in  the mid-1980s. Bucking family tradition by going to art school instead of becoming an engineer, she nevertheless earned her journeyman’s card in a skilled trade, as a wood model maker at General Motors. This exacting craft not only honed her woodworking skills but also gave her the financial independence to set up a studio. Remarkably consistent even from her earliest days in the studio, her approach to her work is centered in the complementary choices of natural and mechanical forms that, when combined, blur the distinction between them. Her painstaking craftsmanship is evident in the high degree of finish in all of her constructions, as well as in her insistence on process as an important part of making. Few of the elements of her works are found objects. Instead, objects with interesting shapes, such as the multiple seed pods in Adrift (2017) are cast into another material; the exploration of the intricacies of the shape through the casting process is integral to the work.

Que calls herself a “material person,” in that she responds to and is excited by substances and their properties. She discovered magnetite (ferrous-ferric oxide), a mineral that is one of the most magnetic substances in nature, while at the Lake Michigan shore and realized the potential of its grainy, black, sand-like particles as a natural way to create patterns. An image of the polarized regularity of the magnetic field appears in many works, such as Dear Mr. Fantasy (2014), but the use of magnetite in small spheres that cling to the surface of Night’s Silent Veil (2017) allows her to use the magnetic field as a manipulated found object analogous to the night sky. Birch bark, with its strong linear pattern, is a natural substance that she often pairs with a man-made element; in works such as Crown (2017), the piece of bark is overlaid by a printed data visualization diagram that resembles the form of a Japanese umbrella. The addition of a gilded bonsai tree and a 16th-century-Dutch-style picture frame creates a remarkably exotic melange of east and west that emphasizes pattern to create image.

Que’s deft combinations of physical elements often lead viewers to overlook the subtle emotional undercurrent of her work. Often the mood seems to be melancholy, evoked by dark coloration, a sense of being anchored or bound, or a suggestion of emotional ambivalence. Dark Fireworks (2016) is one of many works that feature an object chained to a stone, here the outline of the facets of a classic diamond. The titular fireworks might suggest the flashing of light from the facets, but this diamond is made of more pedestrian bamboo, perhaps a rueful suggestion that it is not “forever.” The 12th of Never (2017), inspired by a recent trip to the Alhambra, is a visual pun that shows her sly humor. A found piece of steel that suggests the shape of a pillow sits on a polished wood support, decorated with cast steel “tassels” and balancing a gold-leafed bar. “The 12th of Never,” a popular song from the mid-1950s, refers to an occurrence so far in the future that it will never happen: a love that never dies, a pillow that never softens, even under the weight of gold bullion.

Her intimate constructions are reminiscent of the work of artists like Joseph Cornell, a collector of ordinary objects that had personal, often ambiguous significance. Transcending a simple literal reading, Que’s works explore the mysterious links between what we know and what we feel.

MaryAnn Wilkinson, November 2017

Copyright Essay’d 2017