CHS art teacher’s ‘Sherlock Series’ now on exhibit

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A Friendly Supper (Oil on Tar Paper) by Michelle C. Mendez

A Friendly Supper (Oil on Tar Paper) by Michelle C. Mendez

A new exhibit featuring the artwork of Canton High School art instructor Michelle C. Mendez is currently on view at the historic Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport.

The exhibit, entitled “Sherlock Series,” explores variant interpretations of female clichés and stereotypes through a series of darkly dramatic self-portraits of the artist within reimagined “film stills” from the Sherlock Holmes film noir series.

Mendez, who suffered a mild traumatic brain injury in 2013, returned to painting as a form of healing. Working with a cognitive therapist, she also practiced deductive reasoning exercises and became immersed in Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries. “I was already caught in the cultural obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Holmes in the British television crime drama Sherlock, yet I found them visually confusing and painful to follow,” she said. “Then I found the five-DVD set of original Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone. The old films noirs were slower paced and carefully crafted. I just wanted to be in those movies as a crime sleuth with the debonair Basil Rathbone!”

Freezing the DVD movie stills and throwing on hats, scarves, jackets and lipstick as props, Mendez “shot” film stills of herself and the TV screen with Rathbone. “I began to paint the ‘film still’ scenes while reflecting on longing and relationships from a woman’s perspective,” she said. “My character role varies in each film depending on the scene: sometimes a female Watsonesque character, like Lucy Liu in the TV drama series Elementary; sometimes an urgent or a frightened client; sometimes his nemesis, ‘The Woman,’ Irene Adler; and sometimes I use the scene to capture the attraction between a man and a woman that has little to do with Sherlock Holmes.”

Mendez said she enjoys the irony that Sherlock Holmes cared little for the “weaker sex.” “This allows me the freedom to invent new narratives and new meaning with existing film images,” she said. “While designing and painting, I enjoy the large dark shapes and tonalities of Degas portraits and quirky shapes of Van Gogh’s as well as the dark portraits of Tintoretto, Titan and du Zurbaran.”

A Boston native, Mendez graduated from Boston University College of Fine Arts with a master’s degree in visual arts and has traveled to England, Scotland, France, Italy, and China to study art and paint. She has taught visual arts at Canton High School since 2003 and previously taught at Walpole High School, Newbury College, and for the MIT Interim Program. Over the years, Mendez has shown in many group shows and solo exhibits in the Boston area, including Newton Public Library, Cambridge Art Association, and Fort Point Channel. Her work was chosen by Nell Blaine for an exhibit in New York.

“Sherlock Series” is on view now through October 8 in the Institution for Savings Art Gallery at the Firehouse Center for the Arts. The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. (later on performance days). For more information, call the box office at 978-462-7336 or visit www.firehouse.org.

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