Artist Felix Sherman loves quoting Picasso, who said, as an older artist, that he had tried his whole life to paint like a child and now he finally could.
Sherman can relate.
He respects the uninhibited way a child can create art — simpler lines, colors and subjects. Sherman’s portraits reflect this with smiling three-eyed faces sporting blue outlines that come straight from his imagination. His bodies forgo knees and elbows, instead opting for hammock-shaped forms that fly and lay as if they were poured Jello from a bathtub.
“It’s not serious,” Sherman said of his own art. “When it is serious, something is wrong.”
The artist, who speaks with a thick Russian accent and fills his Long Island City art studio with his own “little jungle” of plants and paper, disliked having to produce a certain style for his collectors and galleries.
Many of the galleries that sold his works, besides one in Nashville, have gone out of business. However, many devoted patrons still collect his work and he enjoys the increased freedom. His flying figures — men and women with their legs and arms stuck straight out — get bought up quickly.
“I want to always change my style,” he said. “Sometimes I return to an old look, but it’s always a little different.”
Right now he loves paper. He uses heaps of New York Times pages to draw on. Sometimes the portraits fully obscure the letters and other times they peek out in the whites of the eyes or on a cheek. Sherman also cuts out figures from the newspaper or sculpts an ad of a woman selling a dress or a vacation so the picture becomes 3-D, as if someone has stuck a straw into the flat sheets and puffed the little clouds out.
He throws gobs of paint on the pages and folds them to create a monolith print that he goes over with charcoal to bring out extra details.
His latest works use acrylic and oil paints, charcoal and markers on sheets of cardboard.
Scratched-up pieces are preferable and give Sherman a diving board for his imagination. He fills some rectangles with primary colors, others with numbers and others with letters.
“I think he wants to be a writer or counter,” his wife of “30 or 31, maybe 32, we stopped counting,” years, Polina Osnachuk, said. Osnachuk teaches painting at the Bridgeview School of Fine Arts off Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City.
The couple moved to Nashville 20 years ago, where Sherman worked with a gallery. They didn’t like that going anywhere required a car.
It took Sherman, who didn’t speak much English at the time, three times to pass the driver’s license test.
Although he despised the car it’s what got them out of Nashville.
When their visas expired they decided they never wanted to leave and applied for green cards. Although Russia was changing, their modern art styles still came under scrutiny by the KGB.
“We stuck mostly with theater there,” Osnachuk said while miming people peering through binoculars into windows.
They threw their two suitcases each into the car and drove to New York City, even though many of their friends warned against it.
For years they lived in Williamsburg and now in Lower Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge with a Long Island City studio for about five years, which he opened up to the public during last week’s LIC Arts Open.
One of Sherman’s works dangles from their balcony — a sculpture made to look like legs dressed in jeans and tennis shoes.
Vines have made a home there.
Sherman uses a whole mixture to create his whimsical sculptures. He starts with fabric and wire to create the form. From there he slowly adds a papier-mache-like mixture of glue and paper along with plaster.
He adds little people sitting in the sculpture’s hands or a little piece of fruit to throw off the perspective and veer away from the serious.