Sharon Shapiro / In Defense of Figurative Art

Artists since the beginning of time have attempted to capture their social realities in their work, mimicking their sights and surroundings and offering impressions of the people and places that are important to them. As artists became more experimental and photography emerged as an available method to capture the real, figurative work has often taken a backseat to abstract and conceptual art particularly on display in the world’s museums and galleries.
 
Alice Neel, Lucien Freud, Chuck Close, Kehinde Wiley, Eric Fischl, Fairfield Porter, Marlene Dumas, Wayne Thiebaud, Amy Cutler and Sharon Shapiro, an artist Amy Parry Projects is very fond of, all offer proof that figurative work is still so impactful and significant when done well.

  Long Shadow  , 1994, acrylic on canvas, 23 x 24 inches   Collection of The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (  MOCA GA  )

Long Shadow, 1994, acrylic on canvas, 23 x 24 inches
Collection of The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA)

The first painting of Sharon’s I ever saw was Longshadow (above), a very odd little piece featuring a serious baby wearing a black glove. It was reminiscent of a portrait a wealthy family would commission of a child of great birthright, but what the heck was that glove all about? The thoughts that this painting provoked and the enduring uncertainty it offers is what I love most about Sharon’s work.

Amy Parry Projects is currently working with Sharon on a trio of layered, framed artworks for the guestrooms of a historic Atlanta hotel being renovated. In defense of figurative painting, and to attempt to explain why it can often be more interesting than a beautifully painted landscape, here are some words from some of Sharon’s collectors.

Please enjoy the thoughts and figures and let us know if we can connect you with Sharon!

 


I think for art to be serious and important, the kind that asks people to linger before it and really look at it, it has to have some kind of content. Abstract art, if it is more than decoration, makes an argument — i.e. has content — in its purely formal expression. But people can perhaps more easily overlook abstract art, and that is what makes it a safe choice for interiors. It is harder to walk past a face without engaging.
 
Figurative art demands attention because it opens a dialogue with viewers; it compels questions like who is she? What is she doing? What is she feeling? Where is she? but it doesn’t offer easy answers.

  Pilgrimage 4  , acrylic on canvas, 56 x 50 inches, Collection of Karen Goodchild

Pilgrimage 4, acrylic on canvas, 56 x 50 inches, Collection of Karen Goodchild

My experience is that people, whether or not they think of themselves as art-lovers or connoisseurs, are eager to enter into these conversations with paintings. They see a work and try out different narratives and meanings for the piece. These possible meanings make them look closely, asking question of the work that ideally will cause them to engage with the work’s formal qualities (how has the artist created the gleam in the figure’s eye? Why do the background trees seem threatening?). These questions will not always be answered, but I don’t find that viewers are upset at the open-endedness of their interaction.
 
Humans are narrative machines; we produce stories endlessly from the material of own experience, and figurative art offers an intense visual prompt to this story telling. Ultimately, living with Sharon’s work, has helped me see how deeply satisfying it is for people to encounter important art. Even though we are surrounded by endless images of people, a painted or drawn image carries a weight of creative intention through the effort of its facture that is satisfying on so many levels.


- Karen Goodchild, Chair of Art + Art History Departments, Wofford College

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The watercolor I have by Sharon Shapiro, titled 'Heaven,' is one of my most treasured works of art. Based on a vintage photograph, it depicts a topless pin-up girl in a swimming pool with one arm raised in a greeting. Lush greenery surrounds her. It's a charming and funny picture, really. I have it hanging in my dining room in view of another nude painting from the 60s that my aunt painted. 

I think most people are a little alarmed when they encounter it in such a prominent spot: I entertain a lot so guests are frequently confronted with it.

  Heaven , 2011, watercolor on paper, 30 x 22 inches, Collection of Robin Bernat

Heaven, 2011, watercolor on paper, 30 x 22 inches, Collection of Robin Bernat

After a while, and in context to the other works in my dining and living rooms, I think they are better able to settle into their enjoyment of the work and whatever initial uneasiness about what might be provocative melts away. Sharon's deft handling of the watercolor is irresistible in my opinion.
 
- Robin Bernat, Owner/Curator of {Poem88} Gallery


 
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In 2014 I bought the painting 'Seam Splitter' and it has brought me so much joy. Every time I pass it, I notice something new and wonder what this woman is thinking. On top of being really beautiful, it's light and airy and mysterious and intense at the same time.

  Seam Splitter  , 2013, watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches, Collection of Joanne LaMotte

Seam Splitter, 2013, watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches, Collection of Joanne LaMotte

I get positive feedback and comments on this painting a lot. People always ask me who she is and who the painter is. Most of the comments center around the painting being, delicate, beautiful, and intriguing. People wonder what she's thinking. She seems to be a throwback to another era which I like. I've also moved her around several times in my house and she works in every room. She's part of the family now! Folks always stop and pause to look at her, whereas they don't really notice or do that with my abstract art.

- Joanne LaMotte, Jewelry Designer

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Sharon’s painting 'Burn' has has been in place in my living room for ten years now and has inspired endless reactions and comments as guests have flowed through our home. It has an immediacy that is hard to ignore, and it is actually more than figurative.  The geometry of the ovals and stripes gives it a modern feel I think, and during part of the day, sunlight gives the illusion that the woman has temporary wings.

  Burn  , 2005, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches, Collection of Wyn Owens

Burn, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches, Collection of Wyn Owens

It by far attracts more attention than the large William Albert Allard Montana landscape photo I have in the same room or the Alex Webb photo of school boys, although both are superb pieces in my judgement.
 
In my experience, Sharon’s works have a way of riveting bystanders. There is some magic there that I’m personally poorly equipped to articulate, but I witness the magic’s effect on people all the time.


- Wyn Owens, Investment Manager / Founding Partner of New Generation Advisors

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More of our favorite works by Sharon Shapiro...