RIDGELY — In Sheryl Southwick’s paintings and collages of trees, there are dreamy forests filled with glints of light and shadow, enticing paths winding back under the trees and color-drenched glades where every detail seems to be dancing. On view in the Adkins Arboretum Visitor’s Center now through Aug. 28, every work in her show, “Woodland Sketches,” shimmers with surprising colors and textures.
For Southwick, trees are vital to our lives, not only for their strong, versatile wood, cooling shade and scenic beauty, but also for the ways they affect us emotionally, raising our spirits and sparking our imaginations, so much so that they frequently make their way into fairy tales, books and movies.
During the COVID shutdown, Southwick was invited to stay at her friends’ house while they were away. Sensing an opportunity, she took her paints and collage materials along.
“I was focusing on the forest next to the house,” she said. “That’s when I decided I’d make the show about trees.”
Southwick loves to experiment with different art mediums. Whether she’s creating oil paintings, monotypes or collages, she often explores the same scene over and over again, playing with the effects of light and shadow and how one color will affect another. As a result, each artwork seems to hum with energy, as if something is about to happen.
“Making the work energizes me,” she said. “In collage, it’s the inherent beauty of each piece of torn paper. In paintings, it’s the thrill of seeing what one color does immediately adjacent to another color. The texture created by the paper or the paint stroke is exciting. The whole process is captivating.”
Born into a creative family, Southwick grew up in Baton Rouge, La., and fell in love with color at an early age. After earning her BFA at Louisiana State University, she studied color theory with several prominent teachers, including Washington Color School painter Leon Berkowicz at the Corcoran School of Art. She teaches at the Academy Art Museum in Easton in Talbot County, where she has lived since 1987, and exhibits in galleries in Easton, Annapolis and Baton Rouge.
In “Orange Whispering Woods,” several trees stand like sentinels amid the confusion of colorful underbrush surrounding them. But although the trees seem still and quiet, the whole scene is filled with motion. Look closer and you realize that the short, playful brushstrokes describing both tree trunks and underbrush all seem to be talking with one another. It’s as if you’ve suddenly become privy to one of the forest’s secret stories.
“Whenever I walk in the woods, I’m mesmerized,” Southwick said. “I would like my work to create a connection with a viewer, by making them want to come closer to see what is happening.”
This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for gallery hours.