Review Me: Rich Sheaffer: Abstract Messages
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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Rich Sheaffer: Abstract Messages

Rich, thanks for taking your time to answer our questions to let our readers get more familiar with your works and art career. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

People notice that I had not started my artwork until after my engineering career in the electric power industry, asking whether I had really always wanted to be an artist. Surprisingly, no, I had never thought of pursuing art earlier in life, and never thought I had any talent for doing so. After my retirement from engineering, I took up the task of writing a novel to capture my angst of the 2016 U.S. national election campaign, by creating fictional setting decades into the future. After many months, I realized that I would not be achieving my goal in a year or two, but more like ten. So how could I express my feelings more quickly? Ah, yes, abstract art! After my first work, “The Story of My Life: An Experiment of Love, Faith and Chaos”, I decided that I could capture my angst by “abstractionizing” hot-button social issues through art. Thus was created my genre of Socio-Political Abstractionism.

As you said, you had never thought of pursuing art earlier in life and never thought you would be talented in this field. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

Although I never use the name “Trump” in my artwork descriptions, I found much fodder for the creation of my art during the Trump Administration. But since the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and the subsequent inauguration of a new administration on January 20, my inspiration dried up. We no longer had the angry, daily rhetoric from the White House. The attacks against democracy were not completely gone, but seemed to be fading away. I no longer had the angst, the nightmares, and the fears that I had for nearly five years. Was I done with art? But then we had Afghanistan, and of course, the finger of blame will point back and forth, but once again, we had chaos. Using a variant spelling, my latest work has been “Khaos in Kabul”. Now the question remains, how much inspiration will I have over the next few years? We wait to find out.

It’s very exciting for the readers to have some clear ideas about the artists’ daily artistic life. So, what is your daily routine when working in your studio?

Although I have many activities in my daily life, the inspiration for my genre of art is sporadic. When society and politics are full of tumult and turmoil, I may have a vision or a nightmare, and that’s when I bolt up any time of the day or night and try to capture what I see by painting or sketching to capture the image before it fades from my memory. For the artwork that I create, working sporadically on issues as they arise, and not having a routine, is what helps differentiate me from other artists.

Rich, take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork?

Visions by day and dreams by night are the sources of the images for my artwork. I practice dream work, which is to say that if an issue is on my mind, I think of that as I fall asleep at night. Often, I may have a dream that captures a vague, primitive image relating to that issue. When I awaken, which hopefully is immediately after the dream, I jump out of bed and try to capture the image by starting to paint or at least making a rough sketch of that image. Then the ensuing artwork, which usually involves many steps of a process, usually takes weeks. For a work that involves only painting, I generally use acrylic paints on a stretched linen canvas. For a work that requires a firm structure, such as one involving wooden forms or moving parts, I start with a Baltic Birch or other hardwood painting panel. The only time I would use oil paint is when I intend to actually set it on fire with a blowtorch, as in “If I Can’t Have it, Nobody Can”, referring to the rioting and violence following the 2020 U.S. election.

Good job. You’ve been developing a new genre of art that you call Socio-Political Abstractionism. So, is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

The central concept connecting all of my works for public exhibition is what I call Socio-Political Abstractionism. That is where I “abstractionize” hot-button social issues that are being heatedly debated. Rarely have I digressed from that genre: examples would be a couple of abstract landscapes inspired by Yosemite National Park, or works intended as gifts to friends, but those are held privately and not for public exhibition.

Some artists prefer to provide detailed artwork descriptions to elaborate and guide the audience in receiving their message via art. What’s your idea? Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

For many of my works, since they represent real issues in abstract form, the audience might not have a single clue as to what inspired the work or what it meant if I didn’t get them started. So, I offer a brief description for each work, to set the stage for what had inspired the work. However, the real value of my work is to encourage people to think and talk about an issue, and to assign their own interpretation and opinion to my work. Once that happens, and my work has been a catalyst for thought and discussion, then my own interpretation fades in importance, as it should.

Rich, you create art by inspiration and imagination. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

My inspiration comes from current events and concerns. I rely on many news sources to attempt to present multi-faceted, complex issues as simplistically as I can, in as unbiased a fashion as I am capable. Although I try to not take a side politically in my artwork, it is political in nature, as all of society’s significant issues are. I strive to take something said, an event that occurred, or the fear of an event that could occur in the future, and abstractionize it through art. Hopefully, the topic is presented as an issue in as unbiased a manner as I am capable, and people are free to interpret and discuss the work, and debate the issues. That is my goal, to encourage people to think, to discuss, and to share opinions on a topic, without my artwork taking an obvious side in the debate.

So the daily news, politics, and social events are the most things that catch your attention, and you portray them without prejudice, judgment, and bias. How do you select your artworks subjects? Where they come from?

My favorite subjects are the very significant issues that affect all of us as a society. There are so many people who are fixated with “I’m right and you’re wrong”, “my opinion is the only correct opinion” and “my belief is the only true belief”, that we must question, after thousands of years of that kind of thinking and the conflicts that arise as a result, can we ever change? Can an artist make an impact? It is my job to do my best to choose artwork subjects that challenge that type of thinking, and it will be long after I am gone before it is seen whether I have had any impact at all. If I have caused anyone to think and contemplate, considering alternatives rather than keeping their thought process on auto-pilot, then I will have succeeded.

Some artists may look at some of their artworks or a collection of their works specifically and value them more than their other works. Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?

I would like to be remembered for creating the genre called Socio-Political Abstractionism, the process of “abstractionizing” significant, complex issues of our society into the simplistic, primitive expressions of a common man. My favorite works are those that were not only inspired by past events or fears, but then came to predict the future as well. As an example, “The End of Democracy In the National Interest?” was not only inspired by things stated on behalf of the President during impeachment proceedings in early 2020, but also was predictive of our democracy being attacked following the 2020 U.S. national election.

Our readers are waiting for your near future endeavors and projects. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

Future projects will be inspired by future events and future concerns. We all await to see what those will be.

What are your art influences? Maybe some artists or artworks which were important influences in your art career in different eras?

Jackson Pollock was my original art influencer, and by his work, I was inspired to create my first work of abstract expressionism, “The Story of My Life: An Experiment of Love, Faith, and Chaos” on a 4x6-foot canvas. After capturing my entire life, as I saw it, I found that I very much enjoyed that creation. Then, as I ventured into my new genre of Socio-Political Abstractionism, I consciously decided to avoid (or at least minimize) art training, so as to avoid being influenced by others. I did not want to compete with well-trained, highly-talented artists as a “little fish in a big pond”, because I would surely not succeed with that approach. So, I decided to be “the only fish in my own pond” by creating my own genre of art. I have been ever-so-happy that I chose that approach. Although I associate with other artists and appreciate their work, I continue to avoid being influenced by other artists as much as possible to maintain my unique style. Although I share my work with other artists, I deliberately do not seek their critiques or suggestions for improvement, since my goal is to maintain my own style and uniqueness.

And, if you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

I would have loved to have met Vincent Van Gogh. I consider him to be brilliant, and he lives on through his wonderous work, although in his time his work was generally considered ugly and distorted. He did not follow the art conventions of his time, but painted as he alone saw things, not as a camera or as his fellow artists saw things. One of my favorite memories is having visited Auvers-Sur-Oise in the countryside outside Paris, where Vincent spent his last days and where he and his brother Theo are now buried. As the song goes, “… this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” If I could ask him one question, it would be “How do you find the inner strength to carry on with your artwork in spite of all the scorn and taunting?” Vincent would have never been considered as a founder of Modern Art if he had merely been like any other artist and not maintained his own style through all of his sufferings.

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