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Common Elegance: The Still Life Paintings of William Shepherd

October 12, 2013 - January 12, 2014

The Tucson Museum of Art is presenting the exhibition Common Elegance: The Still Life Paintings of William Shepherd in the Arizona Gallery of the Tucson Museum of Art, October 12 2013 through January 12 2014.

The still life work of William Shepherd concentrates on not just the everyday object, but the concept of seeing these items from a new, insightful perspective. Using his personal collection of Native American material, Western artifacts, tourist memorabilia, and feed sacks he creates links between cultures and Western kitsch. His paintings perpetuate a sense of vibrancy and harmony, making significant statements about contemporary views of the West. (right: William Shepherd, Red Blanket, 2012, oil on panel, 36 x 55 inches, Collection of the Artist)

Curated by Glasser Curator of Art of the American West Christine Brindza, William Shepherd's paintings bring to the forefront trinkets and collectibles that are casually ignored by replicating them with stunning clarity. He develops striking contrasts of colors, textures, and shapes. They create, in the artist's term, visuality?an undefined sense of transcendence appealing to the eye and spirit.

"His shadows may provoke moods, imply sunrise or sunset, show passages of time, and provide weight and full dimensionality of the still life objects," says Brindza. There is an evident sense of wit, commentary, and nostalgia in Shepherd's still life paintings. After years of collecting Western materials they become symbols of his identity as a Westerner, while the essence of each object appeals to him as an artist. His work encourages others to reminisce about their own experiences with the West.

"Standing in front of these paintings, one just becomes awestruck at the mastery of them," says Robert Knight, Chief Executive Officer of the Tucson Museum of Art. "This is truly an extraordinary exhibition."

 

(above:William Shepherd, Shadow Flight, 2012, oil on panel, 55 x 48 inches, Collection of the Artist)

 

Introductory wall panel text from the exhibition gallery

Elevating the Ordinary
 
William Shepherd concentrates on representing everyday items from a new, insightful perspective in his still life paintings. Using his personal collection of Native American material, tourist memorabilia, and other items Shepherd creates juxtapositions between cultural artistic forms and Western kitsch. These works of art perpetuate a sense of vibrancy and harmony, making significant statements about contemporary views of the West.
 
Shepherd brings to the forefront trinkets and collectibles that are casually ignored by replicating them with stunning clarity. He develops striking contrasts of colors, textures, and shapes. Artistically, these pieces transform into instruments that convey elements of light and dark, depth and perception. They create, in the artist's term, visuality -- an undefined sense of transcendence appealing to the eye and spirit. He emphasizes the development of relationships with each object to one another and the space they occupy. Shadows may provoke ephemeral moods, imply sunrise or sunset, show passages of time, and provide weight and full dimensionality of the still life objects.
 
There is an evident sense of wit, commentary, and nostalgia in Shepherd's still life paintings. The seemingly miscellaneous pieces are deliberately posed to tease audiences about popular culture and its impact on our view of the West. Mass-produced China, Japan, or Mexico-made cowboy and Native American figurines may entertain, but are examples of the over-saturation of marketing and tourism of the West that has occurred throughout the past century.
 
Still, the Western kitsch items are looked upon with endearment by the artist as they provide an intimate connection, reminding Shepherd of his childhood of growing up in the West and personal recollections of being a tourist himself. After years of collecting Western materials they become symbols of his identity as a Westerner, while the essence of each object appeals to him as an artist. His work encourages others to reminisce about their own experiences with the West.

 

Artwork labels for paintings in the exhibition gallery

William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Yellow Trunk, 2010
oil on panel
Private Collection. L2013.22.1
 
Shepherd's image of a sunny yellow trunk, warm copper pot, silver platter, and golden onions with cool shades of blues and purples in the background give depth and expressiveness to the light and shadows. The platter and trunk show how the artist uses colors to distinguish textures. The light source casts from left to right on the painting, drawing the eye in a way similar to reading
a book.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Acoma Seed Jar, 2008
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.3
 
Acoma Feed Jar is an example of one of Shepherd's cross-cultural representations depicting Mexican, Native American, Peruvian, and mass-produced American objects. Look at how the design in the umber and white seed jar complements the Talavera weaving beneath it. Shepherd explores what he calls "visual harmony" in his works or how the objects he depicts form visual relationships with each other's appearances.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Our American Colors, 2009
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.4
 
According to the artist, "Our American Colors has limited depth within the painting. With little separation between the paint and the realistic objects illustrated, a strong sense of presence is created. The painting's predominant reds, whites, and blues in the beaded leggings combine with greens, earth tones, and silver conchos to form a colorful fusion of American cultures."
 
 
Our American Colors Original Still Life Objects
 
- Pair of beaded men's leggings, ca. 1890, leather, beads
- Sioux hair drop, late 19th century
- Plains Indian corn husk bag, ca.1930
- Leather belt with conchos, ca.1940-1950, leather, silver
 
Compare the painting Our American Colors to the objects in their original arrangement. In still life painting, artists recreate what they see but may concentrate on different aspects of each item. Shepherd emphasizes the richness of colors, varying textures, depth of shadows, and compositional balance. You are welcome to draw this display from your point of view at the sketching station.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Apache Platter, 2010
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.5
 
A fascination with Native American arts led Shepherd to explore the visuals of traditional crafted items. He places objects made by different Native American cultures together, showing various textures, patterns, and shapes. Here, Apache Platter displays woven, beaded, and other handcrafted works.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Beautiful Skookum, 2010
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.7
 
Shepherd paints a collectible souvenir doll, or skookum. The black vessel is reflecting and distorting the bright patterns of the red blanket under the doll. The objects are in dialogue with one another, arranged as a cohesive group. Examine the painting closely. Are there items that complement one another? Are there others that contrast?
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Blue Trunk, 2012
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.8
 
The aged texture of the blue trunk is echoed in the sea foam green table. Its top coat is muted in color and faded away. Nostalgia for the past is often represented by antiques or well-worn objects. Painters of still life subjects sometimes use these types of objects or colors to convey emotions or imply the passage of time.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Chippewa Medium Salt, 2007
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.1
 
In the artist's words, "When I was a child we had a small farm in Central Wyoming about twenty miles west of Casper. Some of my best memories of that period are the trips to Lathrop Feed Store with my father to pick up bags of feed I can still remember the thick worn floorboards, smell the musty hay, and see stacks of feed bags that were often labeled with fascinating images.
 
In order to convey that musty, feed store atmosphere I used a warm, neutral palette for my painting Chippewa Medium Salt and kept the colors in a rich, low intensity range with one exception, a Nambe Pueblo tourist pot that I centered in the front for contrast."
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Kachina, Hopi Bowl with Corn, 2010
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.12
 
The composition of this work implies careful balance between brightly colored objects and their dense shadows cast against the walls. Shepherd treats the impressions of shadows as equally important as the objects themselves. The Hopi bowl creates a halo effect behind the Kachina figure like a patterned shadow.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Ojo Caliente, 2006
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.13
 
Shepherd explains, "Combining kitsch with historic pieces requires that you don't bring any prejudices with you. The West is full of kitsch, and I see it as an interesting part of the culture that speaks well for the West ? it shows we have a sense of humor about ourselves."
 
Ojo Caliente places a gift shop cowboy beside collectible and handmade objects. The use of kitsch, or mass-produced trinkets, and historic pieces like the black pot displays the humor and impact of mass-consumerism that Shepherd defines as part of the American West.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Pot with Yellow Roses, 2010
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.14
 
A sparse composition can be surprisingly complex in a still life painting. In Pot with Yellow Roses, the vibrant yellow flowers reflect in the shine of the black pot behind them, mirroring their image. Notice on the right side of the vessel is a dark shadow cast against the wall echoing its presence. What type of feeling does Shepherd's work suggest using these elements?
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Red Eyed Serpent, 2012
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.15
 
"The subject of Red Eyed Serpent is both the still life objects and the ethereal display of overlapping shadows. The Hopi sash, Peruvian belt, and silver concho belt are arranged to appear ready to flow over the edge of the silver tray," said Shepherd. Although these items can tell a story based on their origins, Shepherd uses a range of items from his travels in order to be visually engaging rather than evocative.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Red Blanket, 2012
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.2
 
Shepherd provides insight about Red Blanket, "The complication of simplicity makes this painting. There are only five objects in this arrangement which makes it appear simple, but it was a long and tedious painting, mostly because the blanket is made up of so many different colors. Look closely at the red and you will see the many small brush strokes that were necessary to bring up the richness while eliminating the over-saturating of the red surface...This very hot painting begged for coolness and the small yellow green pattern beneath the cup and striped bowl was just right. This is a painting in which I couldn't add or eliminate anything that would improve it."
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Remains, 2011
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.16
 
The painting title, Remains, refers to what the artist calls "cultural remains." The hanging bag is a parfleche, or decorated leather pouch, usually used to carry dry meat or other objects. The parfleche shown here is unusual, with long leather strips and an attached piece of red cotton cloth on the flap. The plate in the center provides a large negative space. Consider the artist's statement: "I don't often get to put a hole in the middle of a painting."
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Roses, 2010
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.17
 
At the center of Roses is a large metal platter, reflecting the roses beside it. Examine the light's path as it crosses over the painting, and how it affects the colors of the objects portrayed. Peaches, pinks, and yellow colors bring rich life to the flowers, perhaps imitating the colors of dawn and early morning light. Still lifes often depict flowers both for their beauty and natural presence beside man-made objects. Here, Shepherd uses them to explore their look beside objects from the West.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Santo Nino, 2012
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.18
 
Shepherd reflects, "This painting is part of the "Still-life with Shadows" series. The title Santo Nino comes from the votive candle Two plates bracket the painting's content: a highly reflective Peruvian silver tray on the right, and a handsomely designed black Maria Martinez plate on the left The mood of the painting is slightly mysterious and to indicate twilight, a horizontal light slants in from the left casts shadows fading away in the right portion of the painting. Perhaps the implied sunset, the human touch of a warm glow of the candle, and the reflections on the silver platter add to this
painting's tone."
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Shadow Flight, 2012
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.19
 
The elusive shadows in this work contrast the heaviness of the metal plate and cup, and the two vessels resting on the table. While Shepherd's work appears realistic, the shadows here are not. Follow the movement of the shadows. Do they reveal something other than light? Time, mood, or something else?
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
The Weight of Light, 2011
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.21
 
Shepherd remarks of this work, "The title of this painting comes from the weight implied in the value changes in the complex shadows cast on the wall. To create the shadows' effect, it took days of moving lights and objects to adjust the shadows and create the desired effect. The difficulty of shadow painting is in giving immaterial subjects equal standing with the material objects that make them."
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Farmer's Market, 2010
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.10
 
For centuries, still life paintings depicted inanimate objects; food, flowers, or other common objects. In Farmer's Market, Shepherd takes these traditional subjects and gives them a distinct Western flare. Hot peppers, an onion, and an eggplant are laid out over a patterned plate and vividly colored blanket.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Coral Necklace, 2009
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.9
 
Shepherd explores nostalgia for the Old West in Coral Necklace. The objects depicted reflect his own sentimentality and love for the West. It is where he grew up and resides today. Each object recalls a different trip or memory for the artist. What types of objects spark individual memories or recollections of the West for you?
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Apple #2, 2011
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.6
 
The history of still life painting dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and was later popularized by Flemish painters in the sixteenth century. Still lifes from this era formalized the genre, or style of work, by depicting inanimate objects with a wide range of symbolism. Shepherd's Apple #2 invokes this traditional style of a still life, but the artist focuses more on form and visual presentation rather than symbolism in his works.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Table Near Door, 2008
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.20
 
Table Near Door shows intense colors against varying shadows that are both light and dark. Striking greens draw the eye to the table and leaning broom handle evoking a domestic entryway scene. The onions and ceramics suggest a nod to traditional still life painting style. Shepherd's shadows in this work form shapes that would not normally be cast by their objects. Consider which shadows belong to an object and others
that do not.
 
 
 
William Shepherd
American (U.S.), b. 1943
Hopi Bowl, 2008
oil on panel
Collection of the artist. L2013.21.11
 

                                                                      
Checklist for the exhibition

William Shepherd
Acoma Seed Jar, 2008
oil on panel
42 x 52 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Apache Platter, 2010
oil on panel
31.5 x 33 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Apple#2, 2011
oil on panel
12 x 16.5 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Beautiful Skookum, 2010
oil on panel
36 x 36 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Blue Trunk, 2012
oil on panel
31.5 x 34 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Chippewa Medium Salt, 2007
oil on panel
36 x 50 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Coral Neklace, 2009
oil on panel
36 x 41 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Farmer's Market, 2010
oil on panel
8.5 x 12 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Hopi Bowl, 2008
oil on panel
20 x 36 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Kachina, Hopi Bowl with Corn, 2010
oil on panel
12 x 11 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Ojo Caliente, 2006
oil on panel
46 x 63 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Our American Colors, 2009
oil on panel
31.5 x 33 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Pot With Yellow Rose, 2010
oil on panel
11.5 x 12.5 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Red Blanket, 2012
oil on panel
36 x 55 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Red Eyed Serpent, 2012
oil on panel
45.5 x 45.5 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Remains, 2011
oil on panel
37 x 32 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Roses, 2010
oil on panel
37 x 42 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Santo Nino, 2012
oil on panel
33 x 42 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Shadow Flight, 2012
oil on panel
50 x 48 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Table Near The Door, 2008
oil on panel
24 x 36 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
The Weight Of Light, 2011
oil on panel
35 x 40 in.
Collection of the artist
 
William Shepherd
Yellow Trunk, 2011
oil on panel
42 x 42 in.
Private Collection


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