Sharon Irla (b. 1957 -- ) is a contemporary Cherokee artist whose collective body of works span the fields of painting,
murals, graphics and photography. Her studio is located in Cherokee Nation,
Irla’s current artistic field of focus is that of oil paintings - primarily portraits of Indigenous
women and girls, in which Irla seeks to capture contemporary, traditional and historical feminine and/or matriarchal themes. Her
works reach beyond the visual aesthetic, as Irla is very purposeful in researching and
choosing subject matters that will illustrate the presence and importance of Indigenous women and seeks to explore the
multifaceted form and spirit of the “everyday” Native woman – balanced in the cusp of traditional roots and modern living.
To the casual passer-by, Irla’s richly painted portraits of Native American women are often mistaken for photographs or
photo-realism, however, her technique would more aptly be categorized as representational, flourished with tenebrism.
The stated end-goal of her hybrid style of realism, is “to create art” (which may also incorporate stylized ancient Indigenous
symbolism, as well as use texturizing or "faux painting" techiques), “to capture the spirit of the
Through her first commissioned works in the Dallas area, Irla acquired the painting techniques required of a
muralist and decorative artist. She credits this period of time as the experience through which she “…
learned a variety of painting techniques which brought a better understanding of how the juxtaposition of colors, layers of paint,
glazes, and a large variety of brushes all play a major role in achieving realism.” But for portraits, Irla primarily uses the Old Master techniques
to achieve luminous flesh tones.
•Unique Frames -
Collectors of some of Irla’s paintings are, in effect, acquiring two works of art, as some of these works are framed with the artist's hand-built,
custom designed frames. These uniquely designed and textured frames subtly incorporate stylized ancient
Indigenous symbols and iconography, which delicately echo and enhance the themes established within the
paintings. Paintings with these frames include "Cherokee Beauty - The Shell Earring", "Crows Stirring The Magic", "Mother's Prayer" and "Mississippian Ink".
Like many other contemporary Cherokee artists, Irla is very cognizant of the fact that she is creating works during a unique
historical phase, which some would term as nothing short of a renaissance. Since the late 20th century, there has been an
artistic movement afoot in NE Oklahoma and North Carolina, the focus of which is to promote Southeastern and Woodland Native
American art though the combining of artistic creation with that of intense scholarship. More about the Movement...
Within this renaissance movement, contemporary Cherokee artists seek to correct the historical record by recapturing and
reintroducing the Tribe’s accurate historic art, cultural, and cosmological understandings in contemporary works of art. And
it is within this movement that Sharon Irla has established her own niche as a contemporary painter, muralist,
photographer … and community organizer.
•Artistic Movement & Community Organization -
The importance of combining artistic movement with that of community organization cannot be over-stated, for the very cradle
of the current renaissance rests at this intersection. Here, a notable shift in Cherokee tribal identify has taken root.
Here, authenticity can be seen to facilitate self-determination, which in turn helps to sustain a sizable portion of the
local art community. Community Organization cont.
Importantly, then, this renaissance isn’t just about art as a decorative function, but it is about how art can unite a
community, influence policy, and sustain a culture, both metaphorically and literally.