The decisions you make as a painter have everything to do with what you think a painting should do, and everyone has their own definition. When I think about the paintings that I love by other people, I notice the common thread is where they take me psychologically. They connect me with the sublime. Or they connect me with something vital and alive. And what they’re really connecting me to is those qualities in myself and in the world around me. They bring me to a place of transcendence and unity. So when I paint, all my decisions are made, consciously or unconsciously, to find that place of connection and to bring the viewer along with me.
For some artists, technical explorations are an end of themselves. For me, technique is a tool to get to that place of psychological truth. I have always been a representational artist because recognizable imagery is how I think, but the abstract underpinnings are every bit as important in creating meaning, so abstraction, whether overt or covert, figures in my work alongside realism.
As to why paint at all, why not take a photo, why not create digital art, especially since I spent 25 years with my day job as a software engineer. If I wanted, I could use code in my work or create software to create my work, and the decision to paint representationally by hand is a statement. I see technology as a tool and not an end, and the humanity of working with the hand and with skill acquired from long study is something I value. It implies a respect for the abilities and limitations and unpredictability of the human body and the human mind. The interaction with physical paint, with its challenges and capabilities and surprises, grounds me in the real world. I need it.
For me, the act of painting is an exercise in empathy. Through the tension of positive and negative spaces, through the manipulation of volumes and the colors of light, through the anatomy of a person, an animal, a landscape, I use painting as a practice to merge with the subject, to enter deeply and know it intimately and discover what in it is gloriously unknowable. I take this journey and my goal is to bring along my viewer, and say look here, at this Other, this person or animal or landscape that seems foreign to you, and look at the ways you are alike, and look at the ways it is shining and joyous or sweet or dark and deep and mysterious, and isn’t it fine! Look at the marks life has made on it, which are like the marks your life has made on you, and find in it something to love. I don’t want to tell you what to think or feel because it would not be your truth. I want you to bring your life and your truth, and hope that something in my work will spark something valuable in you.
Shelah Horvitz is an American contemporary realist painter. She has studied just about everyone who ever made it to western art history, so her influences are innumerable. She holds degrees in English Literature (Brown University), Computer Science (University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth and an MFA in Painting (University of Texas at San Antonio).
Shelah was born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1960. She started training as an artist at four, under the tutelage of her mother, Frances Bieler Horvitz, who studied at the Boston Museum School (now Tufts). Shelah got serious about art at around ten, when she started studying anatomy from her mother's texts, working from the nude, and studying Rembrandt, the Wyeths, Winslow Homer and the French Symbolists, all of whom remain seminal influences. She started classical training at the age of 13 at the Wheeler School in Providence, RI under the renouned Spanish painter Narcisco Maisterra, including cast drawings, extensive life drawing, painting from life, and copying masterworks at the RISD Museum. While at Brown University, the University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth, and the University of Texas at San Antonio, Shelah studied art history treatises, copied master works from books and in museums and reverse-engineered master techniques through extensive scholarship and experimentation. When married to a medical student, Shelah studied anatomy in the medical school's cadaver lab.
Shelah was in her first exhibition at the age of 20, at Brown University's List Gallery, hanging alongside such greats as John William Waterhouse and William Holman Hunt. She has been painting, studying, experimenting and exhibiting ever since. Her work has appeared in galleries and museums, magazines, books and television, in art historical tracts, on billboards, and in blogs worldwide.
Shelah's current husband is the Norwegian writer Olav Grinde, and their trips to Norway provide fertile ground for paintings that highlight the nude topography and cold light of the Norwegian landscape.
Shelah now lives with her husband and dog in the tiny hamlet of Weld, on the edge of wilderness in the western mountains of Maine.