Who’d have thought that keeping your gaze on the ground would eventually reveal the hope of the heavens above? Painter Joel Sheesley could tell you that and better yet, he’ll show you. Testimony of the Pavement: Paintings by Joel Sheesley is currently on view at the 930 Art Center and it exhibits things seen from the ground up in incredible photo-realistic compositions.
Sheesley, who currently teaches art at Wheaton College, has been painting long enough to deserve his own retrospective. In 2007, in the retrospective catalogue Domestic Vision: Twenty-Five Years of the Art of Joel Sheesley, Sheesley writes, “I practice seeing.” For anyone who works or has an interest in the visual arts this kind of exercise is crucial, and when you look at Sheesley’s work you can tell he has spent countless hours fine tuning this discipline.
At first glance, the dark canvases look like enlarged photographs of subject matters that are odd and kind of insignificant. But when you step closer, light gives sheen to the paint striking you with astonishment that someone could have the ability to make something seem so real without the help of technology. It also gives significance to the various pictures of cracked pavement that feature perfectly smooth rain puddles which reflect all that is above. These ersatz mirrors capture an intense blue sky, pine trees, and people from a perspective of looking down in order to see what is up. This might be what Sheesley means by the practice of seeing.
At his gallery talk, Sheesley said, “I found myself interested in looking down, so I would go on walks and spend the whole time looking down and if I saw anything at all that caused me to stop for a few seconds I’d take out my camera and photograph it. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know what it was all about. One of the things that was most significant to me was what happens when you take something that we experience by looking down on it and place it up on the wall it changes our orientation, we feel like we’ve stepped back a bit.”
He further explained, “Meaning is constantly emerging. The meaning of these paintings circle around the recognition of being between these two worlds, that is, the sandwiched notion of being in a world in which we are aware of something that we call heaven and something that we call earth and feel ourselves between them. What does it mean when we actually realize that those two worlds hinge upon one another and are actually interactive and we are a part of that interaction?”
Sheesley paints wooden ladders in some of his works, which further facilitates the idea of the interaction between these two worlds. “Nineteenth century poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, ‘Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.’ She’s basically pointing at something a lot of us recognize. That simple statement ‘Earth’s crammed with heaven,’ that, in some ways, is like the Gospel that Jesus talked about - the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. I think those are the things an artist like myself is longing to understand, longing to appreciate, and longing to discover through the materials of my craft, which is painting.”
Testimony of the Pavement: Paintings by Joel Sheesley will be on view at the 930 Art Center, 930 Mary Street, until March 25th.
Feature photo: Joel Sheesley, "Above and Below"
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