Memories, mache and mixed objects 

Sharri Phillips dreams up latest exhibition

By Katrina Eresman 

Photo: Sharri Phillips, “Dream Scape” is on display as part of the exhibition, Exploration of Dreams and Memories at the Yellow Springs Arts Council Gallery; photo: Katrina Eresman

You know those dreams that leave a twinkle in your eye and a fascinating, fuzzy plot in your mind? You try and tell your friend about it, but it just doesn’t translate. Most regular dreamers have been there: No matter how beautiful the dream was, it never quite renders.

Yellow Springs artist Sharri Phillips resolved this issue by turning her dreams into pieces of art. Her new exhibition, Explorations of Dreams and Memories, which opens Oct. 16 at the Yellow Springs Art Council Gallery, was developed from a reoccurring dream.

She had visions she describes as “fantastical amusement parks and houses.” This dream, important enough to visit again and again, is perhaps inspired by several cherished memories, several magical sights her young eyes once looked upon.

Her childhood summers were spent on the Jersey Shore near Atlantic City, where boardwalks were lined with amusement parks.

“That was a very vivid memory of a happy childhood…walking to all the piers and the rides and kind of seeing them at a distance,” Phillips says.

These settings hold an emotional nostalgia to Phillips now—a place and a time that was once so real and perfect, but is now only memory. Phillips has recorded hers in a way that makes it easier to experience.

“I use a lot of cardboard and paper mache,” Phillips says. “I will use anything from anywhere if it seems like it will fit. My definition of an art supply could be anything.”

The colorful, brilliant, near-psychedelic palette of the dream world makes a stunning presence in Phillips’ exhibition. The centerpiece is a three-dimensional crowded landscape of multi-colored buildings whose shapes call to mind Russian architecture. And the piece is interactive: The main feature is a rainbow-colored Ferris wheel that observers can move.

“It’s filled with all kinds of crazy little toys, beads and trinkets that seem like they could be useful,” Phillips says. “Sometimes I will take apart little ornamental things and repurpose them if they can be used—like this little stain glass piece.”

She points to a deep, blue crescent moon hanging above the buildings in the center of the sky. Its contrast against the black night sky catches the viewer’s attention. It’s accompanied by stars, represented by glass gems. Similar gems adorn several of the buildings in the forefront, as well as the carousel in the middle, which is home to a collection of tiny toy horses.

“I like to take objects that are already made [and] embellish them,” Phillips explains. “If I see something and it inspires me or it moves me, I’ll save it and I’ll put it in.”

Her favorite part of this centerpiece, titled “Dream Scape,” is the Ferris wheel.

“That was part of another project that I started that I took apart a few different times, and then I saved that part of it. So, it kind of started around that Ferris wheel.”

The eclectic mix of materials from endless sources comes together in a sort of playful chaos akin to the way memories and experiences might be the sporadic materials used to weave together our dreams. Layers build as new ideas and experiences blossom.

In addition to the main piece, Phillips will show several other three-dimensional pieces, similar enough to be extensions of “Dream Scape.” She transformed a toy boat into a fantastical ship, which seems ready to be carried away to voyage among the stars themselves. A stand-alone merry-go-round is her personal favorite.

The 3D pieces created by Phillips are like tiny representations of worlds that the child in us could only dream of inhabiting. I look at “Dream Scape,” I close my eyes, click my heels three times and wish I could be there.

And Phillips likes that about her work. She seeks to portray “a general idea of whimsy and color and vibrancy,” she says. “We all have difficulties and struggles and if it helps someone feel a little light-hearted for a little bit, then that is wonderful.”

When I re-visit Phillips, she is finishing up some projects that will make up the other portion of her exhibition: a collection of colorful quilts, hand-sewn, each small block of fabric carefully planned.

“Right now, I’ve been really into sewing,” Phillips says. “It’s just really fun. It’s so therapeutic. I get very immersed in it, and a little obsessive.”

The quilts, like the 3D pieces, are made of many tiny, hand-picked pieces. Each one contributes to the whole—a final, yet ever-evolving piece full of color and newfound wonders.

These personal, artistic portrayals of Phillips’ dreams and imagination will be on display Oct. 16-Nov. 8, and while several of the pieces have already been bought, others will be for sale. Despite the love that Phillips has for each piece she does, she’s happy to set her art free into the world.

“It’s just what I love to do, and I want that to come across,” she says. “I feel very lucky and blessed that I am able to do it and that I have a job that gives me the time to do it.”

Her future will probably be filled with additional exhibitions—one for certain is already scheduled at Emporium Wines, also in Yellow Springs—but overall, Phillips just wants to create. For her, there is no rush. “Dream Scape” itself went through several transitions over the 20-25 years since its first manifestation. It’s likely that there will be several more versions to come, as Phillips continues to form more dreams and memories.

“There are so many layers in a dream, and it’s always changing,” she says. “We’ll see where it evolves.”

Explorations of Dreams and Memories by Sharri Phillips will be on display Oct. 16-Nov. 8 at the Yellow Springs Arts Council Gallery, 111 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. Admission is free. For more information, visit ysartscouncil.org, or drop by and say hello to Sharri at her studio, the Big Art Studio, located above the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs.

Reach DCP freelance writer Katrina Eresman at KatrinaEresman@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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