Sherry Cromwell-Lacy is well-known in Kansas City for her curatorial eye. She helped open the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, directed exhibitions at the Kansas City Art Institute for more than 20 years and has worked as an independent curator.
Cromwell-Lacy is also an artist who has shown her work around the country. But until this month, she's never had a solo show.
"When a painter who's been a curator turns her hand back to painting there is something worth seeing," artist Christopher Leitch writes in the exhibition catalog for "NUANCE: Recent Paintings by Sherry Cromwell-Lacy" at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center.
So we went to take a look.
LAURA SPENCER: You've shown your work in a number of exhibitions, but this is your first one-person show. In terms of timing, was it that you had the right amount of work? Or, were you just ready to have your own show?
SHERRY CROMWELL-LACY: I have had invitations for doing solo exhibitions. Mostly, I'd been having things in group shows or smaller invitationals.
It wasn't a huge ambition of mine. I've just dealt with exhibitions for so long. I understand its importance, but I was very happy just to be working in my studio and developing my work. I appreciated when people would come and look at it and say, "You know, you really should have a show."
Since I left the (Kansas City) Art Institute and the Kemper Museum (of Contemporary Art), I did independent curatorial work and some art reviewing — but I've had a lot more time now to be in the studio so I could really begin to develop kind of a body of work.
Finally, I got nudged into doing it.
SPENCER: And did you also help curate this exhibition? Is that something that's hard for you to remove yourself from?
CROMWELL-LACY: I did select the things in the exhibition, pulling the works that I thought would be maybe of interest to look at.
SPENCER: In choosing the works, did you also choose how you wanted to display them on the walls, too? Or did you give that up to somebody else?
CROMWELL-LACY: The installation is a kind of art form in itself, and that I have a lot of experience with. You have to look at the space and see how a person enters the space, and how you might visually draw them in.
So, in this particular space, it's long and somewhat narrow. I thought that when you come into the gallery I wanted a draw. So the very first painting I put was at the far end of the room. And, from there, it's very organic. You begin to place the one painting and what is going to sit next to the next one, (asking yourself) "How do they enhance one another?" Shapes and sizes, the surface is something to consider. From there, it just comes together.
SPENCER: You have talked about when you were painting, you have a conversation in your mind with the work. In installing these, are you aware of different works being in conversation with each other?
CROMWELL-LACY: I think that's true, yeah, because, how do they relate? Do you want to pick up on a gesture or a movement in one painting that maybe leads you to the next? This is true in all galleries and museums. Each work of art is regarded as to who its neighbor is going to be. Sometimes you really do want the two to be extremely opposite and show contrast, great variability in style or color, or just mood and atmosphere.
In my case, I wanted it somehow or other, like any kind of narrative or dialogue, to be able to naturally progress through, with a few touches of contrast.
I have some small black paintings in the show that I felt would be little notes of underscoring or pauses.
SPENCER: There's such a wide range of sizes. It is interesting to see them all. There's a nice flow to the room.
CROMWELL-LACY: Size and viewing distance is something that fascinates me. It's nice to be able to come very close to a work of art. So a smaller piece is going to draw you in.
So viewing distance, to me, is important. (It creates) the experience of walking through a museum or gallery space where, just physically, you to have to come close, fall back, come close, fall back.
It's kind of a nice progression. Its own kind of dialogue, if you will.
SPENCER: You live in different parts of the country at different times of the year. I'm just curious if there are certain colors, or if there are particular ways that you paint in locations?
CROMWELL-LACY: In this particular show, there are paintings from Florida, and Colorado, and here in Missouri.
I began to wonder: Is there an influence? In Florida, yes, because we're right by the water. There's something about the atmosphere and the feel of the air. It's different. In Colorado, I'm so aware of sky and clouds, and so I don't know whether that influences the painting or not.
But coloristically, I think that no. I think that I'm painting the same painting no matter where I am. I'm awed by nature, and I might remember a situation in nature where there's a kind of sense of color. Particularly, like if it's a turquoise in a water or the aspen trees ... there's something about acres and acres of the aspen leaves. So you remember that.
SPENCER: Is there something that you think is important for people to know about you going into this show?
CROMWELL-LACY: The paintings all seem to be as if they're from a common family; the hand of the maker is just one person. But I regard each painting as its own self. I don't work in a series. But, because it's me, each painting is going to have a little bit of me. Not just themselves, but a little bit of me (laughs).
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.