I’m delighted to continue my interview series by introducing visual artist Sheri Hoeger. Her recent series of paintings, A Touch of Hands: An Invitation to Loving Connection tells the story of Sheri’s personal journey towards wholeness, integration, and a new sense of mission in her art.
Sheri and I “met” as we responded to writing prompts through Tracking Wonder’s Quest 2016. We found we share a love of the textures of bark, sand, and rust, photos of our loved ones from the back – and the preciousness of waking up to life in each moment, whether that be a moment of joy, sorrow, or dailiness.
In her early adult years, Sheri’s work as a manicurist hinted at where she might be heading. Introduced to the airbrush, she brought out the beauty of her clients’ hands, garnering a local reputation for her custom nail designs. Then, as an interior decorative artisan since 1988, Sheri applied her skills to walls, floors, fabric, furniture and accessories.
Demand for her designs led her to launch her stencil line in 1992 as The Mad Stencilist. Her work has been featured in numerous books, magazines and on television. As lead designer and director of Big Oak Arts, she offered workshops and classes in the fine and decorative arts nestled in a beautiful setting in the Sierra foothills in Placerville, California.
This brings us to A Touch of Hands: An Invitation to Loving Connection, a series of paintings that Sheri describes as her “real” work– the result of her journey of recovery after the loss of three siblings in two years.
The project transforms the most painful time of the artist’s life into a “celebration of all the things a touch of hands can mean.” A celebration, too, of what she describes as her own “mindful practice of reaching out and sharing more, day in and day out. Folding it into my habits like chocolate chips into the dough.”
I am deeply touched by Sheri’s story. While two of her siblings lay dying, she took photos of one of her hands holding one of theirs- “clasped in love and pain and support, knowing their time here was not to be long.” She filed the pictures away, telling herself, “Some day, when I’m ready to do my serious artwork, I will paint them.”
After her losses, Sheri didn’t “soldier on.” She kindly allowed herself the time necessary to recuperate, and months later, she struck up a friendship with another woman. While listening to a presentation one evening, Sheri’s friend held her hand, and then snapped a picture of their hands with her phone camera. When Sheri received this photo in a text the following morning, she realized the synchronicity. Her friend didn’t know about the pictures Sheri had filed away. The time had come.
Sheri launched her A Touch of Hands series in the fall, her “straight-from-the-gut-through-the-heart work,” with an interactive Facebook page where she invites her readers to post photos of hands and the stories behind them.
A keen observer, Sheri is able to hold the beauty of the world along with the difficulties and complications of life. With honesty AND kindness, she acknowledges the messiness and then chooses to make something beautiful in response.
I trained myself to lock onto what I find beautiful that is right in front of me. Even in the most dire of circumstances the sight of an egret or the croak of a frog can lift my spirits. It triggers my sense of wonder, which brings me joy. It comforts me to know that all the rhythms of life are underlying even my saddest song. ~Sheri Hoeger
Sheri’s open-heartedness is married to her openhandedness: kindness, generosity, risk-taking, a mastered paintbrush. This allows her to transform photographic images with her intention, heart and brushstrokes, into living portraits of relationship.
There is such potent healing power in the way she connects people to the beauty in their lives.
The paintings don’t just tell my story, they tell all of our stories through something we all experience, something that is so important to our well-being and so common that many of us don’t really notice. But what if we were more mindful? ~Sheri Hoeger
AN INTERVIEW WITH SHERI HOEGER
Connection, comfort and deeper understanding are my currency, and knowing that I’m doing something that feels important.
Sara: For many years you have worked primarily as a decorative artist, in others’ homes and spaces, and found great satisfaction and joy in creating for them visual connections with what was important to them. How has that prepared you now to launch your own your “straight-from-the-gut-through-your-heart” work, A Touch of Hands?
Sheri: I have always been happy to explore and paint so many kinds of things because I was working for other people.
I remember a client wanting to have oranges underneath her whole archway. I thought, “Oranges? I don’t know why she wants oranges.” Then I started drawing oranges, and “Omigosh, look at how the leaves are, how could I not have always loved oranges?”
I interviewed people at length, and incorporated things that were symbolic or metaphors that only family would get, little private jokes. Or with a pet portrait, the owner wants to capture that love, how it feels to be with their animal.
My favorite projects were always where I could help connect people to what was important to them, the love in their lives. Somehow those thoughts and intentions come through in the painting.
When painting for myself, that became difficult. If images were beautiful to me, they seemed to have equal weight. So, if I didn’t have a commission to work on, I painted what I thought was beautiful and would sell.
What was missing in my own studio work was a “why” that was deeper than a pretty picture as a vehicle for my entertainment, skill-building and gratification.
Sara: It seems that A Touch of Hands is deepening your own wholeness, marrying your level of mastery in painting with your own personal meaning, rather than just the personal meaning for a client, as well as bringing your own process and voice out in a different way. You seem to be arriving at a new inner and outer stance.
Sheri: A Touch of Hands satisfies my craving for deeper meaning through my art. I feel like I am finally in touch as a fine artist with what is important to me to paint. The paintings don’t just tell my story, they tell all of our stories through something we all experience, and is so important to our well-being and so common that many of us don’t really notice. But what if we were more mindful? We touch our mates’ hands, our grandkids’ hands, we shake hands on a deal, we touch hands that have meaning in so many ways, and we take it so much for granted. That’s part of my mission, I think – here’s a moment of touching hands and it means so many things, and trying to capture that moment in the painting and also remind people that they have those kinds of moments all of the time.
I think of it as a collaborative effort and invite interaction on a Facebook page. It’s been really freeing to just put it out there and see where it leads. The images are resonating with people because the relationships, emotions and circumstances are universal. Each one is a statement in itself, but as a collection I feel they are even more powerful.
This is also born of a wider shift. It’s kind of a new thing for me to be writing a lot and putting it out where people can actually read it, to share the occasional honest and disarming insight that I once would have kept to myself. It helps me make sense of my experiences when I can share some of the wisdom gained. Whether it is through my work or other aspects of relationship, I fulfill my purpose when I have that kind of impact.
Sara: What you are offering here is a very different kind of exchange in the art world.
Sheri: There have been some really beautiful contributions on the Facebook page. My intention is to sometimes use those images as resource material for the paintings. Monetary income does not drive the project, as I give most of the paintings to those who have modeled for them. Connection, comfort and deeper understanding are my currency, and knowing that I’m doing something that feels important.
To see more of her work and for a few tips to improve your powers of observation,
read my full interview with Sheri Hoeger HERE
Visit Sheri’s A Touch of Hands Facebook page HERE
Visit Sheri’s website HERE