My current “Urban / City” series of photo-based work originates from photographs I have taken on city streets in New York and at Grand Central Station. I am expanding and shifting the parameters of traditional photography by combining it with digital technology, oil painting, and the occasional text. By blending the distinctions between these areas, it enables me to push beyond their conventional boundaries to create a new format.

I was born and raised in Chicago, so my work is informed by city life and the multitude of issues we encounter living in a large city: loneliness and alienation in our fast-paced society, the concept of personal identity and the loss of it, the individual as part of the crowd, the passage of time, and finding ourselves somewhere in the process.

Around 2000 I began writing text over some of the people in my photos in an attempt to personalize or individualize them and make them stand out from the crowd. These brief stories about the figures are from my imagination, based solely on their appearance or stance. By using written narrative in my work, it creates a public/private dichotomy, giving the viewer an opportunity to “experience” the artwork. One can become a part of the process by reading it, rather than simply looking at an object from a distance, creating a greater impact and duration in its effect on the viewer.

I superimpose these “biographies” on top of the people, almost as if they are wearing their stories like an article of clothing. I try to give a little bit of history about the person; where they are from, their age, what they do, their hopes, their dreams, and often something embarrassing or personal that they would rather not have revealed.

In my work the documentary nature of the photograph merges with the painterly qualities of oil, establishing a dialogue and tension between the two. I mount my black & white images on top of 2 5/8” deep wood panels, and hand paints them with numerous layers of oil glazes to build up the color, combining the old master technique of glazing with contemporary photo/digital technology. This gives each piece a lush surface and makes it stand out as a painting, rather than a print.

The surface is left intentionally glossy so that in various light, the viewer can see his/her own reflection. This concept can also be seen in other artist’s work such as Francis Bacon. The following quote by Hugh M. Davies from a Bacon catalog in 1999 explains it well. “He reveled in the fortuitous reflection of the viewer superimposed in the painting, as each of us becomes complicit with the painter, as both a protagonist and voyeur.” This is exactly how I also like to engage the viewer with my work.

My work embraces the contemporary non-linear view of time with its randomness, spontaneity, and chance occurrences. The figures are often in movement, conveying our individual voyages. I look at them as an outside observer, watching the scene. The location itself has been the point of arrival and departure for generations, and is a metaphor for our journey through life - A journey where we are “collectively alone.”


Sherry Karver