MICHAEL: Hey Sheldon, I love your work, but first of all, let's start
with your newly-designed website. I think it shows off your work much
better. What do you think? Did you enjoy updating it or was it a headache?
SHELDON: Hi Michael. Thanks for taking the time to view my website,
again. Im glad you like it. I agree that its a big improvement
over the old format. Ive added a number of installation shots,
got rid of the watermarks, added some additional published articles
(more to come) and made it easier to navigate.
I had to do some searching for some older photos and slides, which was
an adventure, since Ive moved a couple of times in the last three
years. The search had its joys (reliving some old memories, and seeing
the improvement in the website) and frustrations. Im pretty good
at labeling containers, but Ive yet to find some of the photos
from my New York days. I suspect theyll turn up eventually. I
also had mixed results when I scanned some of my old slides. I had to
leave out some of my older work, because of that. Id like to share
some of that work when Ive solved that problem.
MICHAEL: Your New York days? Where are you now? Why are you no longer
in New York?
SHELDON: I left New York the end of May, in 1981, to help my father
with his business. He was getting on in years and wanted, very much,
for me to move back to New Haven, my home town, to help him out. My
father, in fact both of my parents, had been very good to me. As much
as I wanted to remain in New York, I felt that this would be an opportunity
to do something for him. Also, the loft where my wife and I lived was
in the Fulton Fish Market part of lower Manhattan, near the Brooklyn
Bridge and the East River. The South Street Seaport development was
about to begin, and with it, the gentrification of the neighborhood.
(We were only paying rent of $325.00 a month at the time.) We had put
a lot of work into that space, so we didnt let it go without getting
back our investment.
We spent twenty-three years in New Haven, then another ten in Santa
Fe, NM, which turned out to be a difficult environment for my wife.
Now, were living just outside of New Haven, in Hamden, CT.
MICHAEL: We'll get to your work in a moment. How do you feel living
outside of New York? I know you're not extremely far
away from New York. Yet you're far away enough for it to be a bit of
a hike. Is New York City still the center of the art world? Do you feel
like you're missing out on something?
SHELDON: The New York of today is not the New York of the 1970s and
early 1980s. When I was going to art school, in
Philadelphia, I used to be able to have my choice of parking spaces
in Soho, on a Saturday! Gone is the affordable loft with a view of the
Lower Manhattan skyline. Now, the sidewalks are packed with people looking
down at their iPhones.
Of course, New York is still an arts center, but now there are many
centers. The art fair phenomenon and the internet have
altered the marketplace, but New York is still the Big Apple.
Do I feel Im missing out on something by not living in New York?
Yes. Its not as convenient for the movers and shakers
there to view my work. Also, I dont always get to see some of
the exhibitions and other cultural events Id like to see. Theres
also a perverse mind set that many people have: Somehow, youre
more genuine if youre a New York artist. Of course,
thats a lot of B.S. Lastly, New York is too hung up on fashion.
Whats new in the galleries for this season? Im
not interested in creating for this season. Im about
plugging into that which is timeless.
MICHAEL: Which brings us to your work. Interestingly, your work is timeless.
I love your minimal abstracts. They're neither in or out of style. They're
both or neither. I think that the whole fashion approach gives so-called
experts a sense of control and a way to elevate themselves as authorities
and make the approach to contemporary art "contemporary" and
quantifiable and marketable. It certainly gets people talking about
art. No? I mean, we're talking.
SHELDON: Its important to me that were talking, because
you responded positively to my work. Thats whats important.
The work spoke to you in its own way - the language of art - which in
terms of my art is a visual language. The marketplace often requires
a verbal argument to make the sale. It could be eloquent or crass. Ive
overheard both, in some of New Yorks high end galleries.
There are talented critics and curators who write eloquently about art,
and have respect for artists. Peter Frank comes to mind.Sadly, some
critics have egos that rival Donald Trumps. Some years ago, one
such prominent critic was speaking to some MFA candidates at Yale. I
decided to hear what he had to say. He described artists as being low
in the pecking order. He said that he wouldnt consider viewing
the work of an artist until at least three people he knew had recommended
a visit to the artists studio. Its amazing to me how so
many non-artists who make their living in the arts, have so little appreciation
and respect for the very people who make their occupation possible -
MICHAEL: Yes, but you know what Sheldon? This will continue until artists
decide to band together and take their power back. I am constantly writing
about what artists can do to promote and market themselves through various
means. So many artists seem to be asleep to me. Of course, they want
to spend the bulk of their time creating which totally makes sense.
But can you complain with credibility when you continue to give away
your power and outsource things? No one is an expert, but don't we all
have to learn things along the way?
SHELDON: Youre absolutely right. Ive always found promoting
my work to be a difficult balancing act. Sometimes I find that balance,
sometimes I fall off the wire, and (too often) I havent gotten
on the wire. Now that my website is greatly improved, Im determined
to be more focused on getting the attention of people who may consider
my work for exhibitions or purchase.
As for artists taking their power back in some kind of organized
way, the law of supply and demand is not in our favor. I remember, when
I was living in New York, I started to see galleries that showed (what
I considered to be) some really low quality paintings. These were reputable
galleries. I surmised that the gallery system concluded that if they
lower their standards and come up with some rationale for the work,
theyd have more work from which to choose. Someone even coined
a name for it: Bad Art! It became a movement. Some people
will buy anything, if its sold by the right galleries,
and written about by the right critics.
MICHAEL: Let's talk about abstract minimalism. You seem to have a strong
affinity for it. What's that all about?
SHELDON: Arent words fascinating? Ive always gotten a kick
out of how artists styles get labeled, then other writers on art
jump on the bandwagon and the label sticks. I do appreciate your description,
but I should mention that what most people regard as abstract,
I think of as the most real. Let me explain, and then Ill
tell you something about the origins of my work.
If I have a bowl of fruit in front of me and make a painting of it,
Im abstracting something of what I see before me. No matter how
real that bowl of fruit may look, its an abstraction.
I cant pick up that fruit and feel it. I cant taste it.
Now, lets consider one of my paintings. It is what it is. That,
to me, is more real than the painting of the bowl of fruit,
no matter how real the bowl of fruit seems to look. By the
way, I have nothing against anyone who wants to paint bowls of fruit.
Ive had a great deal of academic training and appreciate good
painting, regardless of genre.
I began on the path to which you referred in late 1974. Basically (this
is the condensed version) I was searching for a visual/physical essence
in my work, and realized that the essence I was searching for was the
particle. Thats when I began to do sand paintings. My drawings
evolved into a visual vocabulary that was compatible with the sand.
Soon after, my oil paintings, and later,my acrylics did, as well. I
was always interested in the nature of perception. I wanted there to
be an awareness, when viewing my work, that one was in the presence
of a physical object. Thats one of the reasons that I often use
multiple surfaces for the same painting. I think of them as both micro
and macro, simultaneously, a continuum.
MICHAEL: Your sand paintings are quite elegant. Some of your works on
paper have the same aesthetic, but I would not guess that sand works
on paper. No?
SHELDON: Thank you Michael. I hope you get to see some of the sand paintings
in person some day, not just on an electronic device. I dont use
the sand on paper. In nearly all of my sand paintings, Ive adhered
the sand to stretched canvases, usually in multiple layers, by means
of an acrylic polymer emulsion.
MICHAEL: You seem to like order, linearity and juxtaposing colors. Is
this simply a function of the paintings currently on your website or
is this a natural affinity - order, line and juxtaposing color?
SHELDON: Thats an excellent question, because I can only display
a relatively small percentage of my work on the website. Some of the
choices are limited by the availability of adequate photographic documentation.
Im working to expand the offerings to include even some of my
very early work, and some of the more difficult to photograph.
I do have an affinity for order, thats for sure, and for harmony.
Where does one thing begin or end? To me, thats a basic question.
I may have some notion of what I want to do, before I begin a painting,
but once I begin, once that first bit of paint makes its way to the
surface, I know that the painting will reveal itself to me over time.
The choices of color and their juxtaposition are a part of that evolution,
but also the macro and micro
that I mentioned earlier.
the way Michael, I dont mean to be so critical of other peoples
work (bad painting or otherwise). I know that everyones
on their own journey. Ive done some work in years past (especially
early on) that I wasnt pleased with. I just didnt offer
it for public consumption. When I see paintings that dont appeal
to me, it usually makes me want to get into my
studio and paint. Thats a good thing.
MICHAEL: When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist? Why
art? What does art do for you?
SHELDON: I can go back to at least kindergarten class. I was the only
kid in my class who would draw an outdoor scene with the blue sky meeting
the horizon. I was puzzled at how everyone else would depict the sky
as a band of blue at the top of the paper, and draw a band of green
for the land at the bottom. What was that blank space in between the
two? When I was in first grade, my teacher entered a poster that I made
into an international poster contest. When I received a fancy certificate,
(from Canada) for my entry, my father had it framed. I didnt come
from an artistic family, but I was
always drawing as a kid. I drew portraits of baseball players and presidents,
and I would draw on the white shirt cardboards that my father would
get from the dry cleaners. I just naturally drew.
By the time I was in junior high school, the Yale Art Gallery became
one of my favorite places to hang out. Ive always loved communing
with quality art. When I was in high school, I was one of the cartoonists
for the school newspaper. I would like to have gone straight to art
school after graduation, but my parents wouldnt let me. It wasnt
until a few years later, when they realized that my going to art school
was a matter of life or death, that they acquiesced. I was born to create.
I need that life sustaining connection. Its my preferred way of
MICHAEL: What do you think needs changing in the art world? If you could,
what would you change? What needs to be done?
SHELDON: Perhaps the answer to those questions could be the basis of
your next book! Personally, I think that the economics of the art
world are obscene, in nearly every way. Think about it. In most
school districts, when budgets need to be cut, arts education is often
the first activity to be axed or downsized. When
most people arent exposed to quality arts education, they are
less inclined to appreciate how art can enrich their lives. The artists
who live in their midst, and the work they produce, are then less likely
to be supported, financially or otherwise, by their community. In an
ideal world, arts education would be a core subject.
The high end of the art market, which includes the big auction houses,
is probably the largest, unregulated market in the world. The manipulation
by dealers and investors, and the prices paid for some works by hedge
fund billionaires, has placed too much emphasis on art as monetary investment.
The ridiculous prices paid for some works of art make it to the evening
newscasts, so that by comparison, the average artists work seems
rather unimportant. Again, education could help to change that perception.
Art, for me, is a way of connecting with, and manifesting, that which
is infinite and timeless. Its not (primarily at least) a commodity.
In fairness to galleries, they have to pay the bills. They have rent,
utilities, salaries, etc., so they are inclined to prefer artists with
a proven track record, or go with whats hot (or what
they think is hot). If the audience for art were to grow,
because more people understood arts true value, more artists could
At the other end of the spectrum, are activities that cheapen the idea
of what art is. You can get out of the house for the evening
for $40.00, be provided with some wine, a small canvas and some paint.
You go home with a work of art. Really?
So, it all comes down to what we value in life. If I could, Id
create more of a balance between, and respect for, all of the parts
and pieces that are a part of the art world.
MICHAEL: Sheldon, I could chat with you forever, but I'll make this
our last question. You've been an artist for a long time and have lived
through many things. What advice do you have for up and coming artists
or creative people in general?
SHELDON: Michael, I very much appreciate your thoughtful questions,
your interest in my work, and your prolific writing
about art, and life in general. Its been a pleasure getting acquainted.
In no particular order, I would suggest that aspiring young artists
get the best training that may be available to them. College can cost
a small fortune these days. There are specialized schools where one
can take courses that may be a more affordable option for some. Also,
you may admire the work of an artist who lives in your area. That artist
may be amenable to helping you with your artistic development. You get
professional help, and a local artist makes some extra income. Both
of you benefit.
Keep your ego in check. Theres nothing wrong with being confident,
but Ive found that the most important thing I can do, to keep
the creative juices flowing, is to get out of my own way. If youre
a student, no matter how talented you may think you are, be open to
learning from your instructors and from great works of art. Be curious
and determined to learn. If youre serious enough, with the right
teachers, youll make progress.
Dont be timid about asking for a favor from someone you know well
enough, if you believe youre worthy, and that persons in
a position to help you. Just make sure that youre respectful.
If you think youre ready to exhibit your work publicly, do your
homework before approaching a gallery. Is your work a good fit? Is the
Learn to recognize when opportunity knocks. It can come and go before
youve realized what just happened.
Learn a trade or get certified to teach art, whether its a state
certification or an MFA, because you cant count on making a living
as an artist by selling your art. Respect yourself and your work. If
you dont, why should anyone else?
Lastly, remember the Golden Rule!
MICHAEL: Thanks Sheldon. Great chat. I love your work!