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. If you are going to really understand and learn from a living thing, you do it through its bones.
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 skeleton. 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 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.
My husband is a Norwegian citizen, and although we live in Maine, he still has family and a house in Norway. When we visited western Norway in December 2018, I saw for the first time the islands of Bokn and Karmøy. Their landscapes excited me because the bones of the land actually jut through the surface and you can feel the age and history of the places. It is said that Viking kings launched their ships from these islands; now they are the kingdom of half-wild sheep and that just adds to the charm. Most of the work in 2019 will be from the sheep pastures of Norway.
They say the unexamined life is not worth living. Given that, it's a good idea to know why you paint. Every one of my paintings is a love song. Every one is an attempt to connect with what is fine and beautiful in the world around me and within myself. My paintings are nondenominational psalms.
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.