Here are eleven charcoal drawings done from life; done a few years back. The first eight below are studies, made during figure drawing sessions with my students. The final three were drawn in my own studio, as explorations of themes that I would develop further: a figure in an interior, a magnolia branch, and a self-portrait.
This drawing was a preliminary idea for a painting. You can just see, behind the figure, the outlines of the fireplace mantel that is in my studio. The theme–a figure in an interior–was new to me then, and I finally pursued it wholeheartedly three years later in the painting Solitaire.
This branch came from a neighbor’s tree. The study led me to a more polished composition, Study for Magnolia Grandiflora, and then to a painting, Magnolia Grandiflora. That painting is now on exhibit at the Delaware College of Art and Design, in the Zeuxis exhbition, The Unstilllife. The show will be there until January 14, 2017. It travels to New York City after that, to open at the Painting Center on February 28.
This self-portrait was done thirteen years ago. Depicting my own image, from life, staring into a mirror, is an endeavor that I mostly pursue in drawing, and only rarely in painting. It’s a great way to practice my portraiture skills without having to schedule a model, or worry that I might offend a sitter. I was aiming to capture expressive movement in this drawing, as if I was turning to speak to the viewer. Looking at it years later, I realized that the sweater was so voluminous, that I found it comical–thus the title.
Jonathan Kamholtz honored me with an eloquent commentary in Aeqai Magazine on the drawing Solitaire. He was reviewing the exhibition, DRAWN, presented by Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati last month. I have excerpted it below:
Sheldon Tapley’s “Solitaire” is also highly finished, a study for a painting that he apparently decided not to paint. A young girl of indeterminate age has been building a house of cards, and has been cheating, taping them to each other. She doesn’t care, not about anything. Her profound boredom is pointed at the viewer as a sort of challenge which seems just on the verge of being translated into something sexual. Behind her, as if out a picture window, one of Frederic Church’s monumental paintings of the tropical volcano Cotopaxi is steaming up a storm, on the verge of an explosion of its own. On the table, beside the house of cards, lies an overturned gourd from which extends a wispy stem that might just be a fuse. Tapley has seen all the explosiveness woven into the traditions of baroque still life.
I realized after reading the review that I had unwittingly misled readers. My written statement for the exhibition seems to say that the drawing stood alone, as a study for a painting that was never made. I should have been clearer, since I did eventually complete an oil painting of the subject. That is shown below, accompanied by the statement I submitted.
This drawing was originally intended to be a study for an oil painting, but it became an independent work in itself. (The painting that evolved from this drawing is larger; it is now at an exhibition in the Evansville Museum, in Indiana, where I was once Artist-in-Residence.) The house of cards at the heart of the still life is held together with hot glue and masking tape: sloppy expedients that postpone its proverbial, inevitable, destruction. It was set up in my studio for more than a year. Card houses, and card games, have long been symbols of the vanity of human effort. Most famously, Chardin painted them. His paintings of youths building card structures have hovered in my imagination for years. Frederick Church’s magnificent painting of Cotopaxi erupting is reproduced in the poster behind the young woman. I have borrowed that many times, inserting it into any quiet interior scene that needs drama. The cat, Inky, was once a family pet, less prescient in life than he appears in this little memorial.
Today the main image galleries of this website get an update, with the addition of eight works from the past two years. The newest is Clementines, which was a delight to paint. Those little oranges entered our house in December; their color tempted me to take a few to the studio. The brilliant yellow tablecloth in the still life is a piece of silk that I bought in New Delhi, eight years ago. I have never before painted it, despite having acquired it for that very purpose. The intense color looked too raucously brilliant in every still-life setup in which it was tried, so that it would eventually have to be removed, usually to be replaced by a piece of blue silk (purchased at the same shop), which managed to make its way into more paintings than I can easily count. So this little painting represents the belated victory of the yellow silk.
Even though I practice an art form developed hundreds of years ago, I love modern gadgets. Clementines was set up under the steady cool glow of a Kino Flo lamp. Its four-foot wide span creates a light nearly as soft as the daylight that comes through my studio windows, but allows me to paint at night and throughout dark winter days, when even large windows are of no use. I prefer it to the focused beam of light that comes from a spotlight, which makes hard-edged shadows.
Solitaire is one of the largest and most complex paintings I have done. It is posted in “Figures and Portraits”, along with the drawing of the same title. The drawing was originally intended to be a study for the painting, but it became an independent work in itself as I got into it. Eventually, though, it also served as a study, since I made the painting, mostly, by working from the drawing—particularly the figure of the young woman. The still life on the yellow table was set up in my studio for more than a year, so it was there to observe again when working on the painting. (The drawing was completed in December 2012; the painting in October 2013.) The house of cards is at the heart of the still life. Hot glue and masking tape held it together, postponing its proverbial, inevitable, destruction. Card houses, and card games, have long been symbols of the vanity of human effort; they were most famously painted by Chardin. His paintings of youths building card structures have hovered in my imagination for years (see April (Flaming Parrot) of 1998). This past summer I was lucky enough to see two of those canvases in person, one in the National Gallery, London, the other at Waddesdon Manor.
Shadow was begun without much thought, as a spontaneous study from life, but it would not conclude satisfactorily; I could not abandon it. The painting evolved, through much reworking, into something more imposing. When pursuing seemingly endless revisions, a painter can experience the nagging fear that the later labors are burying something once light and fresh, and possibly better. There is no way to know which way is right: deliberation or decision? I hope, in this case, that deliberation and persistent reworking was the right choice. Sometimes, though, the contrast between the two approaches is made clear in two separate works, rather than hidden in the many layers of a single painting. Cadey, a pencil drawing, is a one-session study from life, done simply to get to know the model. Nocturne is a more considered composition, also drawn from life, and of the same young woman, but with a more imaginative approach, so that she becomes more like an actress than the subject of a portrait. Both those images came easily. In the case of the more troublesome Shadow, a friend helped me toward decisiveness. Dan Ludwig saw it in progress and made an invaluable suggestion: make it simpler.
Two of the drawings in this new posting are selected from figure studies done while working alongside my students. During the term we draw together from life twice a week, in the evenings, outside of class. From those sessions came Kate, Curled and NW Reclining, Arms Behind Her Head. I am grateful for the patience and fortitude of the models that work for us. Kate, the model in the first of these two drawings, appears throughout four years of my drawings and paintings, and in many works by my students and other artists who have come to Centre to work . Her expressive presence added liveliness to Solitaire (both the painting and the drawing), Shadow, and many other images.