Friday, September 19, 2008

Art Space Talk: Sharon Shapiro

Sharon Shapiro is fascinated by the conflict between inner and outer existence; for instance, the need to stay composed and still while the interior is churning. She views painting as a good vessel for that tension. There is a decorative aspect to her work that is influenced in part by her childhood memories of color and patterns. However, underneath that colorful surface lurks isolation, fragility, and yearning.
Nine Lives, acrylic on canvas, 36” x 46”

Brian Sherwin: Sharon, for over a decade you used your art in order to explore the complexities of growing up female in America. In your work you explore the conflict between inner and outer existence. You have described it as conveying the need to stay composed while one’s interior is churning. Can you go into further detail about the thoughts behind your art?

Sharon Shapiro: I often see people-- women in particular-- who have an outer persona and a very different inner self, which to a large part society has nurtured. I've always been fascinated by this split, and I seek out those moments that reveal strength and vulnerability at the same time. There is a moment, for example in a painting like Spark, where her jaw is slightly clenched, and you can tell from her knuckles that she is gripping the phone, waiting perhaps for a piece of news, or listening intently to someones voice on the other end. She is both powerful and fragile in her sun hat and bikini top talking on the phone in her yard. Over the years, my work has slowly evolved to include children, men,-- and even animals because all of these beings possess these two sides that manifest sometimes at once.

Teddy R., acrylic on canvas, 60" x 38"

BS: At what point did your work shift into the direction you have been going-- as in, why did you decide to make these issues the focus of your art? For example, was it a sudden change from what you had been exploring previously?

SS: I've always painted the figure, from very early on. I've always focused on inner tension, and when the work changes it's a slow evolution. It's always been about protecting the true self, and alternately revealing the true self.

BS: Tell us more about the psychological aspects of your art. The human condition obviously plays a role within the context of your art. Have you studied psychology formally by any chance?

SS: No, I haven't, but I do seek in a lot of my work a psychological undertone, whether it be about childhood and memory, or something from the past that makes you uncomfortable in the present. Mystery is a part of my work but I don't want that to be all that it is about.

Go Ahead, watercolor on paper, 15" x 11"

BS: So what is the specific message that you strive to convey with your art? For example, do you strive to empower women by exposing some of these issues or do they serve as a reminder of that collective experience, so to speak?

SS: I think it strives to encourage all viewers, male and female, to recognize the duality of self, and how vulnerability is an important part of being a strong person. You want to empower children to be strong and confident, even though they are very susceptible to being injured, emotionally. Women particularly feel like they need to overcompensate in certain ways, either by not showing fragility at all or being afraid to be confident.

BS: Speaking of gender issues. What are your thoughts on sexual equality or inequality in the art world? For example, did you experience any form inequality while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute or at the Atlanta College of Art? Have you experienced anything of that nature during exhibits? Have you observed it… is it a concern that you have?

SS: Not so much in school, no. I have seen it and experienced it in the art world, but I try to rise above it and stick to being professional.

Badlands, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 48"

BS: Tell us more about your process. For example, do you work from preliminary drawings? Do you use reference photos?

SS: Historically I've used found photos from old magazines, especially men's magazines from the '50's and 60's for my source material. More recently I've been sourcing my own photographs.... Teddy R. was painted from photos that I took of my daughter's friend wearing my dress. Badlands is a self-portrait where I am standing in water wearing the same dress. I love the idea of the founding fathers being worn by a woman. Can she be as strong? Can she be as important? I think so, and this is a very timely issue. I don't do preliminary drawings for the paintings per se, but I have been doing drawings lately that are stand-alone works.

BS: And what about other influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artist?

SS: I'm influenced by just about everything around me, including books, music, movies, walking outdoors. I can say that I have looked often at the work of Alice Neel, Jenny Saville, Balthus, and Lucian Freud, to name a few.

BS: You have been involved with exhibits at Solomon Projects, Lawrence Asher Gallery, Hodges Taylor Gallery, and a number of other galleries throughout the United States. Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

SS: I just had a show at ADA Gallery in Richmond, VA last month, and he will be going to the art fair in Miami in December. I"ve got some shows lined up in for this fall in Charlottesville and in Central Virginia. Right now I'm working on strategic next steps in DC and Miami, and will keep you posted.

BS: My understanding is that you also accept commissions. If any of our readers are interested in that how should they contact you?

SS: I am phasing out commissions, but if someone is interested and they get a hold of me in the next couple of months I might be able to accommodate them. The best way to reach me is through my website, or email me directly, shapiroart at earthlink DOT net.
Spotless, acrylic on canvas, 38” x 50”

BS: Do you accept open studio visits?

SS: Yes, of course, as long I have a little notice....

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

SS: Hmm, well, I'm really into watercolors right now, and I feel they present a lot of opportunity for contemporary content. Thanks for the fun interview, Brian!
You can learn more about Sharon Shapiro by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


sumita's artworld said...

That's great art work!

nerosunero said...

great works, a lot of feelings deep colors and a subtle narrative