I started as a figurative painter and trained with the figure literally for decades. Now to paint the figure, you start with the bones, which determine the structure, and you wrap the muscles around the bones, and it was always the bones that excited me. The bones of a mammal, the bones of a human, the bones of a bird, they determine the structure, so they determine the creature’s abilities, so they determine its life, so they determine its thoughts.
The bones are the life.
I always had landscape elements in my work but when I moved to Maine the landscape was so wild and engaging I took the humans and animals out of my work and started painting the land as if it were a living creature, a very complicated figure, a gaia system. Which means I got very interested in the land’s anatomy because anatomy is how you understand a figure. The soil in Maine is thin, so its stones pierce the soil, like jutting bones. But the lush forests of western Maine act like a kind of fur that sometimes shows and sometimes obscures these bones. On hilltops where the rock is bare, you see the creature’s spine. This push/pull, what hides, what shows, the landscape’s dance of veils and its mystery, is one of the exciting aspects of the Maine landscape.
When I visited western Norway in December 2018, I saw a landscape that really excited me because the bones of the land were so close to the surface. In sheep pastures on Bokn, Komerøy and Sleire, the rocks jut through the earth and you really feel the land's internal structure. It’s not something I reasoned; its bareness just excited me. So I went with it. The upcoming work in 2019 will be from the sheep pastures of Norway.
In my mind I am painting the earth as a creature, with flesh and bones, with moods and ruminations. It doesn’t matter if the viewer gets that. It is a device I use to give a sense of the life within the land.
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 has degrees in English Literature, Painting and Computer Science. 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 and working from the nude. She was in her first exhibition at the age of 20, at Brown University's List Gallery with such greats as John William Waterhouse and William Holman Hunt. She has been painting and exhibiting ever since. Her work has appeared in galleries and museums, magazines and television, in art historical tracts, on billboards, and in blogs worldwide.
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.