Kathleen McSherry always wanted to become an artist. As a youth, she pined away many endless afternoons painting and sketching in a bound book of scraps fashioned together by her uncle, a book binder by trade and also a talented fine artist. To create art was in her blood and bloodline, similar to her grandfather and uncle and so many others in her family who aspired to create art.
But in college, when faced with the dilemma to become a starving artist versus pursuing a more pragmatic career in advertising, she opted to put her dreams on hold—but not entirely.
Leading a Double Life
By day, she laid the groundwork for killer ad campaigns, met tight deadlines, and put in long, sometimes arduous, seemingly endless evenings, but she was still filled with the burning desire to create.
This dedicated artist satisfied her hunger by living in two separate worlds. “I would come home from advertising and paint the entire weekend,” she explained.
“Those were the days when I’d paint through the night and watch the sun come up, so I never really felt like it was lost because I was doing it on the side.”
Her art took a new direction when McSherry began entering cartooning contests. After years of plugging away at creating universally understood cartoons in the form of story boards, in her spare time, she finally began receiving international recognition as a cartoonist.
From her relentless passion to create captionless cartoons, McSherry was given the opportunity of a lifetime to become a world traveler with all expenses paid and meet other internationally recognized artists. “For two shows they would pay our way from Paris to Anglet along the Atlantic Coast to the Pyrenees Mountains,” she said incredulously. “We would tour museums during off hours and as payment for all of this were asked to draw a little something.”
This exposure led to creating a body of work that has been featured in hundreds of international cartoon exhibitions in Europe, Japan, the Middle East, and South America, not to mention generating a huge following.
This was the only area of her life where she had the complete freedom to follow her heart without compromises or clients to please, until her MS diagnosis.
Another Door Opens
“That was a rough year in my life. I walked with a limp. At different times my hands would get a little shaky—so I lost all confidence in my drawing. But I still needed to find a way to create.”
When she could no longer steady her brush strokes to paint what she had envisioned, this tenacious woman discovered another satisfying way to experience art that became a form of cathartic therapy.
That was also when she began bidding at nearby auction houses, where they auctioned off “good junk” with missing or broken parts, often for just a buck. “So I’d put the two things together that I love: going to antique auctions and bidding on treasures to create found art.
She found another way to produce art by juxtaposing obsolete found objects to make assemblage art. “It was easy to do, and I didn’t need the hands of a surgeon. It became necessary for me to create, so I wouldn’t be constantly aware that I had MS.”
She used to draw every day in an engagement planner–never missed a day until the diagnosis. “This is the first year that I am back to render detailed drawings every day.”
For this artist, art is purely emotional. “It’s whatever moves me. Sometimes, I will leave objects in my studio, and then I’ll find them again. I get the objects to kind of speak to me and tell me where they need to go.”
Inspiration Comes from Every Day Treasures
Each piece tells a story or conveys a message like “I Dance the Dance” representing her Art of Acceptance body of work, after accepting her diagnosis. It was inspired by Degas’ ballerinas with a real-life twist.
“I had to inject myself every day with huge needles, so I gave her a ballet skirt comprised of needles. I am bringing the doll to life, no longer useful to the child who has grown up, especially if it is a broken doll.
It is almost as though she is breathing new life into the doll and making it whole again, just as she has done by accepting what is and finding new ways to engage in the art process.
Sometimes inspiration comes from floor displays for speakers that she purchased at an auction, a batch of eight for only $1. “They sat in my studio forever. Then I saw them in my imagination with heads; each needed to make a statement. Once I have objects in my hand, I go into sublimation and the art takes over.”
The Desire to Create Becomes a Business
In 2013, after leaving her position as director of marketing, she established herself as a full-time contemporary sculptor. “I decided it’s now or never and poured all of my energy into my work.
It wasn’t enough to simply create a body of work. This professional artist was determined to get her work shown and to raise awareness, so she took the basic steps that you would do in any business. This process began long ago but she has recently formalized it by developing a website, started a marketing campaign, applied for local juried shows, and by joining the New Hope Arts League.
Her body of work is really a metaphor for society at large she explained. These objects once had value and now have been discarded like people whose jobs have been replaced by automation, automated tellers, or check-out booths in supermarkets.
Advances in technology aren’t necessarily a bad thing, she added as long as we are mindful of the type of world that we are creating, the mindset of throwing away or replacing what we no longer deem useful.
This artist has given us a reason to pause and reflect about what we treasure and discard as a society. These assembled objects would have ended up as trash and suddenly people are noticing and talking about them and seeing a metaphor for future generations.
“I grew up reared by two Depression babies. You take something that no one has a use for and turn it into something else. We live in a throw-away society: Use once and throw away. I take bits and pieces of object remnants of other people’s lives that have been cast off, discarded, and sent to auction or thrown away and create a visual fantasy.”
“I can teach anyone to create advertising, but creating art is very different. Either you have that in your soul or you don’t.”
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