Shara Mays

Instagram: sharamays


Bio: Shara Mays (b. Princeville, NC) received her BFA from George Washington University and her MFA from San Francisco Art Institute. Mays creates large-scale paintings which take the shape and form of both landscape and intuitive figuration. Her works are performances of subconscious motions and are in constant conversation with the natural world. Her art practice represents an evolution of narrative, from a focus on literal, southern landscapes, and family struggles, to chasing freedom through the act of gestural abstraction. Select solo shows include Color Sanctuary at Marrow Gallery, San Francisco (2023); Overgrown at Mehari Sequar, Washington, DC (2023); and Everywhere at Chandran Gallery, San Francisco (2022). Select group shows include Arcadia and Elsewhere at James Cohan Gallery, New York (forthcoming); Dialogues: A Convergence of Color and Form at Hunter Dunbar Projects, New York (2024); Considering Female Abstractions at the Green Family Art Foundation, Dallas (2023); Creative Gatherings at the International African American Museum, Charleston (2023); and Bloodchild at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco (2022). Residencies include the Vermont Studio Center, Meta Open Arts, and the Headlands Center for the Arts. Her work is included in both public and private collections, including the International African American Museum, the Green Family Art Foundation, and Art in Embassies.

Statement: My new series of paintings depict landscapes with an abundance of color and repetitive brushstrokes. Through a disruption of the conventional notion of a landscape, I explore both the beauty and the tumult of the natural world as a contemplation of identity and selfhood. As an African-American woman living in the United States, I grapple with the multifaceted impact of my identity and how I navigate and exist within American society. It is a persistent challenge to tolerate a world that fails to acknowledge the richness of experience and heritage. These works were initially sparked by a vintage family photograph from the 1950s, capturing my father as a young child in North Carolina. The image portrays him being held by an elder cousin, flanked by two other cousins. Southern thickets of bushes envelop them all. Despite the era's reality for Black children, particularly young Black boys, I find solace in this family photo because it conjures feelings of safety and of a sanctuary. My studio serves as a place of refuge from the outside world. These paintings pay homage to that feeling, envisioning a place of safety and liberation. In my art, color is not merely a visual element but a symbol of the social construct of identity in society. The vibrancy and juxtaposition of colors in my paintings represent the complexity of human identity, challenging traditional notions of hegemony. My brushstrokes are meditations on transcendence and reincarnation, inviting viewers to explore the power of art as a means to transcend societal boundaries and find rebirth in the act of creation. I strive to leave marks of movement, of struggle, and of history on the canvas. The gestural brushstrokes capture a rhythm of my thoughts and emotions, allowing viewers to feel a connection to each piece and the process that created it. My works thus become not just static canvases, but living records of my presence here and now.