Robert Sherer's pyrography (wood burning) works are sweetly subversive and borrow freely from the style of illustrations found in scouting manuals and grade school health textbooks. But this medium is just one facet of an extremely prolific and diverse artist. For example, a particular set of his works is drawn in his own HIV negative blood.
Sherer is a nationally and internationally exhibiting visual artist. His career in the arts has also covered such disciplines as arts juror, critic, lecturer, educator, art dealer, and international art competitor. He began his primary profession as a gallery artist in 1980. From 1992 to 1997, he was the director and publicist for the Lowe Gallery. He is currently an art professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.
In his own words:
"I view the male body simultaneously as a vehicle for addressing sociopolitical issues and as a locus of pleasure and aesthetics. The male body is a battleground of ideologies and interpretations. Capitalism treats it as a commodity; militarism views it as cannon fodder; heteronormativity promotes the body’s role in reproduction; and religion depicts it as a spiritual vessel.
"The intent of the series is not simply kitsch nostalgia but rather an attempt to unearth from memory those pivotal moments when the natural love between men challenges and disrupts the social schema of male competition. I endeavor to create scenes that, while often humorous, can be interpreted as either sexually charged or perfectly innocent. Ultimately, I want to demonstrate that same-sex relationships are wholesome, healthy, life-affirming, and even patriotic."
Sherer answered some our questions about his work and this particular medium:
The Advocate: How did you first start using pyrography as a medium? Robert Sherer: I was introduced to camp craft methods and materials as a Cub Scout, and they provided me with a great sense of personal achievement and solace through the many confusing years of my youth. In my mid teens I abandoned my electric wood-burning tool but then rediscovered it in an attic during the late 1990s.
I went out and bought a wood-burning kit at the hobby store. It’s pretty difficult and I burned myself. Did you have to work with the tools for a while before you became as proficient as you are? I think my early exposure to the hot tool helped me to be a quick learner. Immediately upon starting to doodle with it on a piece of wood I experienced a genuine Proustian moment, an involuntary memory more vividly real than the actual event. My mind was suddenly inundated with memories of the pivotal moments in my homosexual awakening. I knew then that it was time for my work to become more personal and autobiographical.
Your work is dark and funny at the same time. Many boys of that era experienced the dichotomy of the wholesome all-American expectations of scouting and summer camp, and at the same time had some of their first same-sex experiences and feelings there. Was that the case for you? Yes, but I grew up in the country and spent the majority of my time outdoors with other males. Fishing, camping, scouting, and war-gaming were not simply summer vacation activities -- they were our way of life. I was very fortunate to have been raised in such a wholesome environment by strong male role models who did not demonize same-sex relations but considered them to be just a natural component of the masculine world. As a result I was afforded many opportunities for same-sex experiences and romance.
Especially with the pyrography, we can see that ’60s advertising has a big influence on you. Tell us some other cultural influences that catch your eye, including other artists’ works. It is not so much the influence of '60s advertising as it is the style of classic illustrations at the time. I imitate the camping guidebooks and scouting manuals because they closely resemble my memories of youth. I have always liked a wide range of visual arts and have not ever allowed myself to become very influenced by any single artists. The most important cultural influences on my life and art are the gay rights movement and the AIDS crisis, both of which have provided me with a profound sense of meaning to human existence.