"Sharon Kopriva: Early Works"
Curated by Pete Gershon
October 2 - October 30, 2018
October 6, 5-7pm
The Jung Center
5200 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006
"It was the summer of 1982 and Sharon Kopriva had just received her Masters of Fine Art degree from the University of Houston. She and her husband Gus were invited to join friends Paul and Nancy Johnson as they went to visit Nancy’s brother living in Lima, Peru. 'My thesis show had just gone up at U of H and I just wanted to get the hell out of there,' she laughs. 'I didn’t want to be there when the paintings came down.'
Peru was a revelation. They toured Lima’s museums and cathedrals and sailed among the seals off the pacific coast. A hiking trip to the 15th century Incan citadel Machu Picchu on its remote mountain ridge stretched for four days when the travelers were temporarily stranded by a train derailment. Then, on the way back from an excursion to see the famous Nazca Lines, a cab driver suggested an impromptu side trip to view the Chauchilla cemetery. Defiled by years of grave robbing 'huaqueros', the pockmarked desert landscape was strewn with pottery shards, tangles of burial textiles, and most strikingly, ancient human remains. 'The bones,' says Kopriva. 'There they were. Just as far as the eye could see. And it was so beautiful. I felt like I had stepped into one of my paintings.'
The people and culture of Peru were so different from Kopriva’s experience in Houston, but she had been curious about the region ever since a neighbor gave her a ViewMaster cartridge with views of an Incan burial when she was ten. Bones appeared in Kopriva’s drawings and paintings as a student at the University of Houston from 1978 to 1982, where she immersed herself in the work of the German Expressionists as a student of art history professor Peter Guenther. The most fully realized was a 55 x 72-inch oil on canvas titled “Relics,” an almost effervescent, desert landscape littered with bones bleached white by the sun. One of Kopriva’s professors dismissed the painting and told Kopriva she’d be better off interpreting more plausible natural views. Yet here it was in the Nazca cemetery, just the way she’d painted it a year before.
Kopriva returned to Houston and set to work on a series of drawing studies inspired by the mummies she’d seen in their burial niches. Their momentum carried over to the defining work of Kopriva’s early career, a 72 x 98-inch mixed media painting, completed in 1984, titled 'The Bad, Ugly, Proud, and Disconcerned,' a sequence of four abstracted images of skeletal remains on which she worked for almost two years. In Peru, Kopriva noticed, almost everything had a beautiful texture, and she began to build the figures’ morphology off the canvas with the addition of papier mache embedded with anchovies and, in tribute to her most admired teacher at U of H, tiny hidden scraps from the reproduction of one of the paintings of John Alexander. In 1985, the work represented Kopriva in the MFAH’s landmark survey “Fresh Paint: The Houston School” and when the esteemed New York City art dealer Allan Stone visited the city, he bought it on the spot for his own collection.
In the mid-‘80s, Kopriva extended this exploration to the medium of sculpture; 'The Couple' and 'Penitent Woman' (both 1986) are two early examples. The latter also marks the appearance of the Catholic iconography that would dominate much of the work she’s made in the years since.
The Koprivas returned to Peru in 2006 for Sharon’s solo exhibition at the Museo de la Nacion."
Pete Gershon, curator of the exhibit, is the author of "Collision: The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972-1985" and the Core Residency Program coordinator at the Glassell School of Art.