The two works presented here were created in quite different ways. The portrait of Ann, my wife, was done from a photograph taken several years before I painted it. "Dust" was painted entirely from direct observation.
Now and then it has occurred to me that I should have a reasoned, constant, approach to the use of photography as a source. A principled commitment, for or against it, would seem to make me a more serious artist, perhaps even a real thinker, or at least someone with integrity. I failed in that. And my heroes offer little guidance. Of the painters I admire, some work only from life, some use photographic sources, some change their minds definitively one way or another after trenchant self-examination, and some are fairly firm in their lack of commitment. I have followed all those examples, by turns. That last group is now my tribe: the visual opportunists.
Painting from life is far more exciting than any other kind of work. I love it. The camera is a tool that simplifies some tasks, especially when working from portrait sitters who don't wish to return for thirty sessions. Direct observation has taught me nearly everything I need to make to make a picture. Without it, the lens, instead of my eye, might dominate my painting. I prefer photographic sources that aren't very good as photographs. That's convenient, since it's what my limited camera skills deliver. It also serves painting: in the gap between some bad photos and a satisfactory painting, I can get to work.
Life: in artist's jargon, it means working from direct observation, usually from a living subject. It is confusing terminology. In conversation with a non-artist, it may well be taken to mean something more: Living. That's not so easily defined or recorded, but it concerns everybody. Working from life is difficult. Nevertheless, we can learn it; it can even be mastered. It is hard to say the same for life.
I fell in love with Ann when we were both eighteen. As I painted this portrait, we had just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I always wanted to do a good portrait of her, but my attempts over the years were rarely satisfactory. In 2005, I had taken photos of Ann in my studio, some of them with that blue and gold brocade cloth as a backdrop. No painting came of those images. In 2010, I was about to photograph her again, but paused to have another look at the images from five years earlier. This painting was the result, and it satisfied me more than any previous effort. I hope it conveys her vivacity and warmth.
The cloth hanging behind Ann has been in several of my still life paintings. I keep going back to it because I love the color and complex pattern, which to my mind convey both luxury and liveliness. It reminds me of one of my favorite artists, the 18th century pastellist Maurice-Quentin Delatour. Likewise, I had many times painted the blue glass pitcher in "Dust". It had gone unused for a long time while I developed new motifs, promising to avoid self-repetition. Eventually my commitment weakened. I reached for it again. The thick layer of studio dust showed the swipe of my finger as I retrieved the pitcher from my cluttered studio shelves. Thinking to clean the glass, I set it on the table by the window, and saw Main Street perfectly reflected an opportunity.
born: 1959, Maracaibo, Venezuela
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, MFA, 1983
Grinnell College, BA, 1980
Stodghill Professorship of Art: A Permanent Endowed Chair at Centre College, 2005
Martha & Merrit deJong Memorial Artist-in-Residence, Evansville Museum, Indiana, 2004
Kentucky Arts Council, Al Smith Fellowship, 1998
International Painting Annual, Volume 3. A juried exhibition in print; published by Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2013.
The Artist's Magazine, "Master of the Not-So-Still-Life," by Daniel Brown. Feature article in print, with web supplement. May 2012. Re-published online in June 2012, in Aeqai.com; noted and linked in Painter's Table, a national art blog.
International Drawing Annual, Volume 7. A juried exhibition in print; published by Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2012.
International Painting Annual, Volume 1. Third Prize. Juried exhibition in print published by Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2011.
selected solo or two-person exhibits
Sheldon Tapley. Center For Contemporary Art, Sacramento. Sacramento, California. 2008
Sheldon Tapley. Evansville Museum. Evansville, Indiana. 2004
Sheldon Tapley. Tatistcheff Gallery. New York, New York. 2002.
Sheldon Tapley. Tatistcheff Gallery. New York, New York. 1998.
selected group shows
National Contemporary Realism 2012, M. A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2012.
NUDE 4, Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2012.
Visions: The James Dyke Collection of Contemporary Drawings. Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Florida & Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, Arkansas. 2008.
Dances of Death, Tatistcheff Gallery, New York, New York, 2005.