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Ratio 3 is pleased to present Hid It Well in a Walnut Shell, a solo exhibition of new and recent artworks by Daisy May Sheff. For her first solo exhibition with Ratio 3, Sheff presents an array of paintings that showcases the breadth and rapid evolution of her imaginative approach to object- and image-making. Varying in scale, media, and painting style, the pictures comprising the exhibition achieve a distinctive balance of abstraction, figuration, and intuitive composition, each offering a glimpse into Sheff’s uniquely evocative depictions of dreamlike narratives.

Sheff’s artworks function primarily as paintings, executed in oil, acrylic, and pastel on surfaces varying from stretched canvas to assemblages of found wooden panels. The compositions often take on sculptural characteristics, with reclaimed materials embedded within their traditionally painted surfaces. Throughout the exhibition—and frequently within a single composition— Sheff combines painting styles freely, evoking multiple art-historical techniques at once. Delicate impressionistic brushstrokes transform into dense, impasto marks, and vibrant neon colorfields overlap with flattened shapes of matte color, producing cubistic distortions of space and perspective. 

At first glance, Sheff’s compositions present an ensemble of invented characters that seem to merge with the pictorial space they inhabit, becoming intermittently transparent or dissolving into gestural abstraction. With sustained viewing, regions of figuration and abstraction become, almost paradoxically, both more distinct and fluid. Sheff often renders her human figures as if posed for a formal portrait, outfitted in ornate, leg-of-mutton-sleeved dresses or with surreal bird-shaped mustaches, yet just as often, the paintings portray quotidian domestic rituals like bathing and sleeping, with the occasional character enacting other inscrutable, arcane activities.

Much like the artist’s deliberately ambiguous figure-ground relationships, or her indiscriminate embrace of diverse painting techniques, Sheff’s use of narrative is dynamic and open-ended by design. The familiar creatures and recognizable objects populating Sheff’s pictures suggest that the paintings originate, at least in part, from the artist’s earnest observation of the world as it actually exists. Yet, the stories suggested in each painting suggest a world inhabited by ambiguously benevolent and sometimes sinister characters, governed by the arbitrary logic of imagination and the deliberately vague, yet potent, allegorical arcs of fantastical tales and personal fables. 

Daisy May Sheff (b. 1996) lives and works in Inverness, CA. She earned her BFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2018. Since her debut solo exhibition at White Columns, New York in 2021, Sheff’s work has been the subject of a solo exhibition at South Willard in Los Angeles, and has been included in group exhibitions at Clearing, New York; Grimm Gallery, New York; Ratio 3, San Francisco and R3 DTLA, Los Angeles, among others. This is her first solo exhibition with Ratio 3.