It's a rare artist who invigorates not one but two fusty tropes—landscapes and floral still lifes—with jolts of fresh spunk. Sherrie Wolf can, and in Looking Back: New Paintings, she proves anew that she is one of the Northwest's finest, wittiest realist painters.
Key to her success are her senses of anachronism, displacement and illusionism: combining pictorial elements that are chronologically and spatially incongruous. In pieces such as Still Life With Lake Lucerne, vases and silver cups in the foreground hold sprays of vibrant tulips, while the background recedes with reproduced landscapes by historical painters. It's never entirely clear whether Wolf intends the viewer to interpret the bouquets as sitting in a window ledge overlooking actual landscapes, or simply as sitting in front of paintings that depict landscapes. She also toys with perception in a suite in which water-filled vases stand before domestic tableaux lifted from paintings by Dutch baroque master Jan Vermeer. The figures behind the vases are distorted by refracted water, just as they would be if they were real people standing in real rooms. The whimsy of this conceit is counterbalanced by the artist's dead-serious respect for the principles of opticality, and if Wolf's renderings of the Vermeers aren't nearly as potent as the originals, well, whose in God's name would be?
The show's pièce de résistance is Self Portrait, in which the artist reimagines herself as the protagonist of Gustave Courbet's The Painter's Studio (1855). Wolf positions herself in Courbet's chair, changes a little boy into a little girl, a dog into a cat, and a naked female muse into a male coquettishly draping his nethers with fabric. Wolf created this portrait in honor of her 60th birthday earlier this year, and it's a cheekily droll summa. As she approaches her next decade, one wonders what would result if she pushed the incongruities and illusionism of her work further toward the au courant. What if she counterposed her trademark flowers against, say, iconic contemporary works such as Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog instead of classic landscapes? What if she referenced socio-technological developments such as online gaming, social networking and Internet porn rather than old Dutch Masters? Such a strategy might prove the hyperspace breakout move on which this supremely imaginative artist seems poised.
SEE IT: Looking Back is at Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st Ave., 226-2754. Through Dec. 1.