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In the Booth with Ruth – Sherry Dooley, Artist & Survivor of Prostitution

Sherry Dooley

First published on Impolite Conversation – 6 August 2013

Can you tell me when you first took an interest in art? What inspired you, and how did you begin creating your own art?

I always enjoyed drawing and painting when I was in elementary school. I created women with big boobs and big heads – my father would refer to them as ‘fat-headed Alices’, and still does to this day; my mother provided crayons and paint: I was encouraged to create. My favourite classes in school were art class. I excelled creatively, while I struggled in every other subject. I had learning disabilities, which left me with a ‘less than’ self-image.  I felt as if something was ‘wrong’ with me. When I hit my teen years, I lost the passion for creating. Unseen forces took centre stage, as all my pain and confusion surfaced. Pain and confusion about being adopted, pain and confusion about being sexually molested by a cousin and other boys. As one hits the teen years, there is enough on your plate as you are trying to find out where you fit in the world.  My plate was just too small. Without having the emotional tools to fix the issues, I acted out what I was feeling. It wasn’t pretty. My crayons and paints began to gather dust.

How often do you paint? And where does your inspiration for each piece come from?

I paint depending on my mood. I struggle with depression, anxiety, and Bipolar disorder. If my current medication is working, then I can paint for hours on end. Days on end. But that doesn’t always happen. I guess, on average, I paint at least four days a week.

Inspiration is key to creating. If I’m having a sour day, there is no painting, and if I try to paint with the wrong attitude, nothing of value comes from it. I find inspiration in nature and solitude. Being alone in silence renews my inner-self. But that isn’t always possible for me. I live in New Orleans, Louisiana – and there is little in the way of beautiful nature here. I’m from Portland, Oregon. Oregon is riddled with old growth forests, hills and mountains. A simple hike can cure just about anything.

Due to the lack of solitude in nature, inspiration for me must come from other venues. A trip to the art museum. Viewing the oldest paintings possible leaves me in utter awe and admiration. Feels like the history pours over me and through me. There is something very powerful about that. Paintings of The Mother Mary and son are fascinating and can give me a charge to light my creative fire.

When I find myself stuck, really stuck, I must leave the house and go for a walk – do anything that will take me out of the mode of ‘forcing a painting’. People watching at the park, or riding my bike into a part of the city I’ve never been to, or simply going on a self-guided tour of the art galleries on Royal Street does the trick.

I find my deepest inspiration comes from movies and music that invoke emotion. That’s what my pieces are about – emotion, female emotion, which is complicated and often misunderstood. Always look to the eyes for answers.

When painting I love to listen to Counting Crows, CocoRosie, Julia Stone, Kate Nash, Tori Amos, Kate Bush and many others. Again, it always depends on my current state of mind and heart.

I’m very inspired by Frida Kahlo. Cliché, yes I know. Of course her paintings move me, but I think I’m more inspired by her life. Her love, sorrow and heartbreak are somehow inspiring to me. I can resonate with her life experiences, and if I can resonate with someone, or a situation, I’m automatically inspired. 

What subjects do you most enjoy painting and what draws you to those subjects?

I paint emotion through the face of women – and mostly just the face. It’s what I know. I suppose one could paint only hands…and reveal emotion through the fingertips and how the palm is placed, but I don’t do it that. Emotion comes through a woman’s eyes. I’m a woman that is a full spectrum feeler. My emotions run deep – therefore I paint my own reality, only with different hairstyles!  I suppose I’m drawn to painting women in deep reflection, because I tend to spend most of my time in my head. Always thinking, rehashing, wondering and pondering – my mind never receives a break.

How long does it take to create each piece and what is the process?

The time it takes me to paint a piece varies – but is also irrelevant. Some pieces will take several months. Painting and taking a step back for reflection, leaving the painting alone for a week or two, until I can figure out where I’m going with it. Some pieces I can pump out in a few hours. Those pieces need no reflection – there is no grey area – I know exactly how I’m feeling and how I want it to become a visual reality.

My mental process for painting is lacking, I tend to use the emotional brush more often. My physical process differs depending on what materials I’m using. I prefer to paint on wood, because of the way the paint interacts with the wood. There’s nothing like it.

I paint from dark to light, always. Sometimes, I don’t even know what I’m painting, what emotion I’m reproducing until I’m done. Those pieces tend to be my favourites – much like an adventure or road trip that is not planned out. Winging it – is a good term.

You have chosen ’Inventory’ to share with readers. Can you tell me what inspired that piece and what it means to you?

Sherry pic

Title: Inventory
Year: 2008
Acrylic on Canvas – Textured mixed media

I painted this piece after my return from Germany. I had spent four months with my friend, Rozhan, who was living there at the time with her husband. We’d been friends for years – and had gone through hell and back together. We met at the Mustang Ranch in Nevada. The Mustang Ranch was the first legal brothel to open its doors in the United States. Somewhat of novelty. Anyhow, Rozhan and I both worked there at the same time. We both became addicted to meth, while working the middle shift. Oh, we could tell you some stories…

During my stay with Rozhan in Germany bordering Denmark, we talked a lot about the past. We laughed and cried. I guess I did more of the crying than she did, as she mostly laughed. Once back in The States, I was still soaking in the memories of the ranch. Inventory came out of me. Possibly to shake off the memories… I don’t know. But I always had the feeling of being herded like cattle while at the ranch. Unhuman, but not dead – just fading into the tacky wallpaper. 

Can you tell me about your current project(s)?

I’m currently in the middle of a break from creating. The New Orleans heat has sucked all the motivation and inspiration out of me. I’m drained of all that is useful when it comes to my career. (Thank God, I don’t have a boss!)  I will be going on holiday for a month. A month of renewal by the sea. Being born under the sign of Cancer, the water tends to guide my emotions and behaviour. A month of swimming in the ocean, while enjoying my dogs and stepping back from my life and myself to get a good look at where I am mentally, emotionally and creatively, is what I’ll be up to. 

What are your plans for the future?

I don’t know what the future holds for me. Oh sure,  like many others, I have a “bucket list” of things I must do before I leave this realm and move onto the next; paint in Bali, go back to Ireland, paint in Spain, live off the grid, etc.  I’m very blessed to be able to make a living off of my visual emotions. I suppose in the next year or so, I will have a certain body of work ready for a gallery showing. My dream is to have a solo show in Latin America or Europe. I want an international show. I’d like to mix my business with pleasure. I thrive on travelling. Going to new places always has an influence on my work. When I was in Costa Rica, my women changed. When I was in Hawaii, my women changed. When I was in Germany, my women changed. The atmosphere in which I’m creating manifests it’s way into my work. I love that, because it means there is so much inside of me that I have yet to tap into. 

Impolite Conversation has published your story to accompany this interview. Where can people find out more about you?

You can view my sold paintings and my available pieces on my website: I also tend to blog a lot there. I doubt many are interested in my late night ‘panic-attack’ ramblings. I don’t do it for others, I write for myself, as I find it helpful and cathartic.

I also have an artist page on Facebook: Sherry Dooley Art.

About Ruth Jacobs (296 Articles)
Author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a drug addicted call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from my own life. In addition to fiction writing, I am also involved in journalism and broadcasting, primarily for human rights campaigning in the areas of sex workers' rights, anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking.

9 Comments on In the Booth with Ruth – Sherry Dooley, Artist & Survivor of Prostitution

  1. a former painter, I very much relate to a lot you have said here. I’ll definitely visit your web page. It’s great that you’ve continued to paint. It got flogged out of me. Maybe if I put up a canvas something would happen by itself. I also love Frieda. Her life is an inspiration. It makes me feel like a coward, though, the things she lived through and managed to keep living, through her paintings. I don’t blame her for her drug addiction. My God, the pain she endured. Thank you for sharing your painting life, and thanks, Ruth, for giving Sherry a palate to paint on…

  2. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™ and commented:

  3. She is really an incredible painter. Thank-you for featuring her work and interviewing her Ruth.

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  1. From Prostitution to Art – Artist Sherry Dooley’s powerful and moving life story | Ruth Jacobs

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