Originally published with TheDetroiter.com on March 20, 2012
Claudia Shepard is a strong force in the Detroit art scene, and she has been for decades. She balances technical aptitude with a sensitivity to form and color, which allows her to create lush oil paintings that compel viewers to stand still and breath in the beautiful scene. Her confidence and control likely has a lot to do with her painting since she was 10 years old. She has been a part of the Detroit art community for 30 years, earning her BFA during the Cass Corridor days (she then went on to obtain an MFA). She regularly shows at the Detroit Artists Market as well as several other Michigan galleries, and she is currently in our Beauty Debate show at Art Effect gallery, and here are some of her thoughts:
TheDetroiter.com: How would you describe the Detroit art scene?
Claudia: I have traveled a good bit to larger cities (L.A., Chicago, Miami, etc.), and I have felt that work being done here is as good as anywhere I’ve been. I believe we have a very strong art community here bolstered by Wayne State University, CCS, Cranbrook, University of Michigan, and other community colleges in the metropolitan area. I am particularly glad to see the energy of young people moving into the community and adding their talents and vitality to this solid base.
TheDetroiter.com: What inspires you?
Claudia:–light on form–color and shapes that attract my eye–stones on the beach–piling them up to become metaphors for life; objects that evoke a personal meaning (clothing, lipsticks, etc.)–then the combinations that might project new ideas and meanings–Edweard Muybridge 1800?s series of action photography–extracting particular figurative gestures that resonate as metaphors for emotional states–the line at Starbucks; I am interested in cultural gestures and environments, wanting to celebrate these “little stories” in my everyday life–grafitti, combined with friends in the art community–extending grafitti ideas of placing a presence on top of another’s presence, creating more “little stories”–celebration of friends and family through portraiture
Does beauty play a role in your art?
Claudia: I do not set out to make a “beautiful” painting. I respond to what I see. As Ellsworth Kelley said, “I zero in on what attracts my eye.” I focus over a period of time on still lifes, portraits, etc., making discoveries along the way–observing relationships (both formal and psychological), pushing metaphorical ideas with the processes of paint application. Beauty for me is my own visceral response to the visual, imbued with meaning.
TheDetroiter.com: Could you tell us how your art practice has progressed?
Claudia: Following my MFA, I taught drawing, life drawing, and painting at Wayne State University, CCS, and the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center for about 15 years. During that time I also did some court room illustration for channel 7 in Detroit as well as a bit for CNN. I also illustrated a book for children by Nigerian author Issac Olaleye. During the last few years, I have been concentrating on different bodies of work in my Detroit studio.
TheDetroiter.com: How long have you had a studio in Detroit? What is your experience with having a studio in Detroit?
Claudia: When I graduated, I shared a studio at the top of the Atlas Building on Gratiot, near the Eastern Market. I later moved into the Pioneer Building on East Grand Blvd., where I have been for the last 15 years. I particularly value this community of artists for its camaraderie, input, support, and fun.
TheDetroiter.com: This is Women’s History Month, are you particularly inspired by any women artists?
Claudia: I have been equally inspired by both male and female artists of history. There were not so many women to look at before the 20th century. Among a group of the German expressionists, I very much liked the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker. Later, the women surrealists (Remedios Varo, etc.). Then others began to pave the way for womens’ expression: Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin, Louise Nevelson, Eva Hesse. An intense women’s art movement began in L.A. in the 50?s led by Judy Chicago and other controversial artists bravely claiming their individual rights of specific expression. During this time Joan Snyder, Pat Steir, Susan Rothenberg, and Alice Neel paved the way for even younger artists working today and freed from any comparisons with male artists, including Elizabeth Peyton, Dana Shutz, Jenny Saville, Cecilly Brown. I have been inspired by all of these women.
TheDetroiter.com: Do you see any roadblocks for being a professional artist that are particular to women?
Claudia: Actually, the generation of feminists as well as feminism in the arts helped pave the way to our thinking beyond a limited view of our roles as mothers and wives to achieving our own dreams and passions. Kate Chopin’s “A Room of Ones’ Own” empowered me to have my own studio. I feel that women artists who are as driven as men to focus on their art lives and education and who maintain high quality in their work should no longer have the roadblocks of the past.