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Sherry Dooley
The woman inside
by Kathy Anderson

herry Dooley doesn't want to freak anyone out with her story. She tells it as it is – no sugarcoating – because she's proud of how far she's come. Sherry's back in her hometown of Portland, breathing deep and enjoying life to the fullest.

Filling the void
The women in Sherry Dooley's paintings come from within – within Sherry and all the women she's had the pleasure or pain of knowing or meeting.

"Floating," acrylic on wood

"She is the whore and saint in all of us," she said. "Her name is Isabella, Sharon, Rozhan, Tessa, Melissa, Patty, Dana, Dora and, yes, Sherry."

Sherry's women have changed and evolved as her painting skills have progressed, but the same feeling and intent have always been there.

"My intention is to capture the essence and spirit of what I feel it is to be a woman, via my personal experiences," she said.

"To me, being a woman isn't always about lace and candied hearts floating on a breeze. It can be about violation, shame, pain, depression, bliss, hopefulness, love, jealousy and regrets."

"Conversely, painting is a great way to play make-believe," she said. "It's a way for me to make my hair longer, to uplift my chest, to add curves where I'm lacking some, and to show off my youthful skin!"

When Sherry gets bored with painting she branches out with other media, such as collage, but always comes back to painting.

"Sister Mary Agnus," acrylic on wood

"There's something very satisfying about gooey masses of color," she said. "Paintings feel solid and stable. Sometimes I wonder if I'm lacking that in my life, so I fill the void with paint."

Under the influence
Trying to put her style of painting into words is a struggle for Sherry.

"Let me start with labels that are familiar: outsider, folk, visionary, surrealist/realism, spiritual. Because I'm not formally educated in art and the vocabulary that goes with it," she said, "that's about the best I can come up with."

Sherry needs only one word to name the artist who's influenced her the most – Frida.

"She's one amazing creature! Frida Kahlo moves me, not just with her artwork, but also with her life story," she said. "I'm also a huge fan of Salvador Dali. He takes me to my dreams and a higher awareness level."

Though Sherry has no definite upcoming shows, her work hung at the Urban Grind Coffeehouse in October and can be found on eBay.

"Skin of gold," acrylic on wood

Broken spirit
Art was a big part of Sherry's childhood; she painted, molded PlayDoh and was constantly drawing.

"I was always drawing women," she said, "apparently with big heads and boobs! My mother called them 'fat-headed Alices.'"

Sherry took a few classes: stained glass, block printing, drawing and painting. But when she hit her teens, she also hit upon some extremely hard times.

"Art and creating were packed into a cedar chest and put in the closet for many, many years," she said.

Sherry describes herself as being a soiled dove for 15 years of her life. She was a prostitute. At 16 she was on the streets – massage parlors, nude dancing, escort services.

At 21 Sherry took her self-destructive career inside and went to work at Nevada's Mustang Ranch, where she stayed for 10 years.

"Lovers," acrylic on canvas

"I was a broken soul with a horrible meth addiction," she said. "Every woman I knew at the time was in the same boat; broken and spiritless, nothing more than victims allowing ourselves to be victimized over and over and over again."

Into the light
Sherry wanted to change her life, but felt trapped and didn't know how to get out. Then one of her customers made her an offer she couldn't refuse.

"A man came into the ranch, paid for me, and when we were done, told me I shouldn't be there," she said. "Yeah, well, how many times did I hear that one?"

This time was different; they made a deal. He would pay Sherry's rent and bills while she went to school and got back on her feet. She was not his mistress, and the only string attached was her promise to not return to prostitution. They both held up their end of the bargain and are still close friends.

"Passion," acrylic on wood

"Being lost for so long, and then pulling yourself out and into the light is a very empowering experience," she said. "Taking control of your life instead of just taking what comes to you is the most amazing rebirth you can go through."

"I can see both sides because I've lived both sides," she said. "I know the depths of pain and I've wallowed in the hell we can create for ourselves. I know the bliss of loving myself and all that follows in the light.

"My spirituality is also inspiration – the one mind and one heart that flows through all of us is pure beauty. I see it, breathe it and live it."

Creative nurturing
Sherry's life transformation has included earning her graphic design degree, raising her 16-year-old son and watching her older brother explore his creative side.

"We are all creative beings, but just like math and reading, creativity needs to be nurtured, encouraged and practiced," she said. "I don't believe most folks see the value of creating, therefore, schools don't place much importance on it.

"Seeing my brother's inner-artist emerging is very exciting."

Sherry's son also paints, though right now his focus is on finishing high school and buying a car, so his brushes have been put on a shelf for later use.

"Protection," acrylic on canvas

"I'm extremely proud of my son and he is supportive of my work and career choice, though in the beginning he wished I had stayed at Intel. I feel I've taught him a real lesson in leaving the nine-to-five: live your passion, be true to who you are and, please oh please, don't live out of fear."

Cheaper than therapy
Sherry's goal is to just keep doing what she's doing, telling her story and sharing her experiences via the brush and canvas.

"I hope others can feel my intent when they view the work and maybe say 'oh yes, I know what you mean,'" she said. "I'd like to help other women who have been in my shoes to see their beauty through art. It's been such a blessing in my life, and it's way cheaper than therapy!"

For Sherry, motivating people to realize that they can create, no matter what they think, is like transforming a caterpillar into a magnificent winged being ready for flight.

"And we all know," she said, "that when you're confident enough to strut your stuff, you can fly and never come down!"

E-mail Sherry at singsing7_99@yahoo.com and check out her Web site. You can reach Kathy at kanderson138@attbi.com, and draw on other Sketch Pads.

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