WASHINGTON, D.C.- Sheila Isham’s The Victoria Series, featuring five canvases ranging in size from roughly four by seven feet to five by eight feet, will be on view in its entirety at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) through April 24, 2005. These powerful paintings reflect the artist’s victory over personal hardships and are a tribute to her daughter Sandra who died of HIV/AIDS in 1996.
Sheila Isham overcame a fire that consumed hundreds of works in her Washington, D.C., studio, a typhoon that shipwrecked her small craft off the coast of Hong Kong, a flood that ruined a substantial body of work in Guatemala, and most devastating of all, the loss of her daughter Sandra in 1996 after contracting HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion. And yet, despite these upheavals, her work prevails.
The Victoria Series was painted during an intensive three month period in 1988–89, reflecting images apparent in her Cosmic Dance, Cosmic Myth, and Cosmic Earth (1979–88) series. This series also foreshadows the later works of her Oasis series (1994–present), combining mythical and figurative elements. Of The Victoria Series, Isham states “Clearly the series tells the story of an odyssey one hopes never to experience. It spans all human emotions from love to terror to hope and finally triumph and joy. It is an epic poem in paint, expressed in brilliant color and strong forms. From dark to light, cold to warm, violent painterly gestures to softer, undulating forms that express peace, joy, and relief.”
Eminent scholar Robert Ferris Thompson has remarked that Isham’s paintings “provide Zen mist without the mountain armature, modal jazz without the trumpet or orchestra backdrop, just pure release, pure spirit. Her paintings waft into our consciousness . . . making us perceive line, form, and color all anew.”