Honore Sharrer was an artist who made paintings, lithographs, aquatints, photographs, and drawings. Her colorful paintings, with their blending of Social Realism and Surrealism, showed the experiences of everyday people but with a slight air of unreality. Her early paintings depicted American working people in a Social Realist style. Her work then transitioned into Surrealism, often with humor and political overtones. Later she would explore the imagery of myth and fairy tales to free herself from “the punishment of ‘realism’.”
Sharrer studied at the California School of Fine Art and at Yale University. During World War II she worked as a welder in a shipyard in San Francisco. She created storyboards for the movie industry. She moved to New York and worked in a shipyard in New Jersey.
Her adherence to representational and figural art in the 1950s and 1960s came up against the dominance of male-dominated Abstract Expressionism, causing her to lose critical praise and to go unnoticed.
Her early works were based on journalistic images of working class people. They were very precise and told a narrative about their homes, workplaces, farms, country fairs, schools, etc. Her most famous work, “Tribute to the American Working Class,” 1946-1951 was an extension of her earlier “Workers and Painting,” done in 1943. Her Tribute painting was a five-panel work, painted in the style of a Renaissance altarpiece. The central figure was not Christ but rather a factory worker, flanked by portraits of working men and not saints or angels. It took her five years to complete this six-foot long painting, which is now in the permeant collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
In 1958, she completed another important work, “Reception.” This painting dealt with the hysteria of Communism and the Cold War. She painted many powerful political people as she took on Senator Joseph McCarthy and those who vilified and tried to ruin left-leaning artists, actors, and intellectuals.
After this piece, her work became more surreal as she used exaggeration and strange juxtapositions in a slightly abstract way. Sharrer repeated images of everyday life: waitresses, small dogs, food, cutlery, dining apparatus, floral arrangements, etc. to make mock domestic settings to humorously expose the folly of men. She made the female nude a theme in her work but usually presented the figures as realistic and even flawed.
Her paintings were featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s “Fourteen Americans” exhibition in 1946; the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Nineteen Young Americans” in 1950; and in a 1951 solo exhibition at New York’s Knoedler Gallery. It was here that her celebrated “Tribute to the American Working People” was shown. In 1955, her work was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s “The New Decade: 35 American Painters and Sculptors.”
Sharrer was given her first large-scale retrospective in 2017 at the Columbus Museum of Art, which traveled to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then to the Smith College Museum of Art. Her work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, and others.