Icon Series

In 1997, Sherril saw a show at Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco called ICONS: Magnet’s of Meaning. Subjects like Calvin Klein jeans, toasters, surfboards, cosmetics, logos and everyday objects that were recast as icons and works of art. Following the great tradition of artists exploring popular and contemporary cultural iconography, Sherril began to use these images and others in her work as she examines the female archetype, social status, greed and class.

Her personal choice of Icons includes Barbie and handbags designed by famed fashion designer, Judith Leiber. She was especially fascinated by Judith Lieber evening purses, that were selling for $5000.00 and up. She began to explore everyday objects as art subjects in her work and the result is her series called ICONS, begun in 2010.

Sherril’s journey began exploring icons from art history, in particular, medieval images representing saints or powerful women. To explore this genre, she reproduced these paintings as a study combining elements of contemporary culture.

The representation of Theodora, wife of emperor Justinian, was taken from a Byzantine mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna Greek 500-548). Theodora was probably the most powerful women in Byzantine history and was one of Emperor Justinian’s trusted advisors. She was a great patron of the arts and is depicted in religious murals and frescoes as the benefactor. She was demanding to be portrayed as an equal to the Gods. A great advocate of women’s rights, influencing the passage of laws protecting young girls from prostitution and implementing laws for divorce.

These ancient portraits of powerful and religious figures contrasted with our modern-day cultural icons elevating wealth in contemporary society created questions for Sherril which she is exploring in her new series, ICONS.


Icon IIn ICON I, Sherril has combined ancient historical figures with contemporary iconography. Judith Leiber’s jeweled horse purse is in front of the Saint, illustrating how we as a society have parted from religious icons to the elevation of expensive objects in present day culture.

Date: 2013
Size: 30 x 30
Medium: Oil on linen canvas


Icon IISherril’s portrayal of Theodora in ICON II, combines the most famous representation of the empress and a costly Judith Leiber handbag of a cat. Sherril was struck by the historic portrait as flat, colorful, stark, bejeweled and adorned with pretty objects. Combining the two images is her way of examining the priorities of each culture marking the love for luxurious ornamentation in both traditions.

Date: 2014
Size: 39 x 34
Medium: Oil on linen canvas


In ICON III, Painting, Sherril has combined multiple historic and contemporary images of wealth, status, greed and class. Contrasting a Faberge Egg, A classical painting by Hieronymus Bosch and a famous contemporary necklace by Chopard jewelers she is exploring these themes. There is an exaggeration in the difference in scale between Chopard’s pearl and diamond Ram necklace and the Faberge Egg. The back-wall hanging is the section on Covertness from Bosch’s painted tabletop that depicts the coveting and individual greed of mankind.

Date: 2015
Size: 34 x 36
Medium: Oil on linen canvas

ICON IV (Barbie, “Lack of Choice”)

Madonnas throughout the ages have been symbols of devotion. The highly stylized images is not a person but a religious symbol – a religious icon. A symbol of beauty of the time and the mystery of the story of creation. The Renaissance artist discarded this approach and painted the Madonna as a woman, portrayed a real person placed against a background of real trees and hills. A symbol of beauty of the time.

Sherril has painted the present-day symbol of beauty “Barbie”, placing her nowhere. The shadows come from all directions or none at all. The painting depicts the world of the imagination rather than realistic depiction. Sherril is painting an idea. The great American Impressionist Robert Henri said, “A drawing is an invention.” This quote gave Sherril license to invent her version of contemporary iconic beauty. The painting, “Lack of Choice” is Sherril’s invention of how she views Barbie and contemporary women today.

Barbie is a doll who is anatomically improbable, with elongated neck and torso, broken joints, plastic skin, not of human proportions, the look of a mortal body with no soul. An Icon, a symbol which by its very nature refers to an absence of reality.

“I encourage rejection of unrealistic goals and favor a positive self-image”

EJ Sherril, 2017

She is just as unreachable as the previous icons of beauty. She is an unrealistic icon – an unrealistic goal – unrealistic symbol of beauty.

None-the-less the girls of today struggle to look like Barbie. Naomi Wolf an author and feminist said, “Young girls are trying to fulfill society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty”. “The beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society’s impossible definition of the “the flawless beauty.”

Date: 2018
Size: 36 x 40
Medium: Oil on linen canvas

ICON V (“No Big Deal”)

The depiction of women in history fascinates Sherril. Throughout time, classical beauty changes in society and women are portrayed as symbols considered desirable at the time. These historic and contemporary labels are examined in a series on the portrayal of the female breast.

This painting explores how breasts have been shown in statues, paintings, fashion. Captured by the negative connotation of the term, ‘Fashion victim’ Sherril examines a compelling anthology of trends manners and personalities over time.

Combining six images, Sherril questions the depiction of the female breast in history from the erotic to the nurturing, using a Roman draped Venus, Botticelli Venus, in image of Court Dress, illustrating the use of corsets and finally Playboy bunnies and tattoos from contemporary culture.

The ideal type of full-chested hourglass figures began again in the early 1950’s but this time leading to a spike in plastic surgery and self-manipulation. For example, Hugh Heffner had the girls tan the bunny icon into their skin.

Date: 2019
Size: 56 x 48
Medium: Oil on linen canvas

“In an ideal world, women can accept their appearances. The breast will be taken at last for what they really are: no big deal.”

EJ Sherril, 2019

ICON VI (“The Selfie”)

The Golden Calf , a false god, an Idol. Shown in the background depicts how fleeting and fast an idol can be.(Showing oneself next to an Icon indicates “Hey I am more important and my cell phone is my new icon, new idol. ) They appear to be taking pictures of the Golden Calf, but have placed themselves foremost in front of the Golden Calf. They move through snapping selfies without necessarily taking the time to look at the Golden Calf. They are the subject of the photo.  Their hands are holding the cell phone in prayer.  Using their cell photos to depict them as different, unique special. But they are transient moving people in an atmosphere of idol like selfishness. This reveals something about humans. Do I show a sense of privacy? Does the viewer feel as though he has been allowed to share discreetly in moments of peoples live unfolding? Is there a sense of moral purpose in the steadfastness of their gaze as they take a photo? Need a serene expression to give a spiritual unity. Idolization of oneself.

Date: 2020
Size: 56 x 48
Medium: Oil on linen canvas

ICON VII (“Self Expression”)

Self Expression

Date: 2020
Size: 34 x 37
Medium: Oil on linen canvas

ICON VIII (“Pandemic”)

A quote from a write up for Pantone: (Pantone Company is known for its color matching system.)

“Pantone announced that it had chosen two colors of the year 2021:  Ultimate Gray and illuminating, a combination of dull familiar gray and the bright yellow of lemon skin.  It’s a choice for the past year of quarantine, a time in which we had to insulate ourselves from the world.  The color gray evokes our collective experiences over the past year.  It’s a depressing summation: During nine months of quarantine, we’ve certainly arrived at the “ultimate gray”, a state of mind. Grayness means ambiguity and irresolution.  Neither black nor white, it doesn’t point toward an ending, just the continuation of an indefinite period.

The “illuminate”, the bright, highlighter-yellow color, is the light at the end of the tunnel, the sun rising over a dark landscape, the dawning of hope.”

Color takes on a symbolic rather than representational function in order to clarify and dramatize the intended message of the painting.

Year 2020 we were informed of a possible COVID-19 pandemic.  This event inspired me to paint “Pandemic”.

Date: 2021
Size: 38 x 50
Medium: Oil on linen canvas