Foregrounding Black narratives with intuitive charcoal strokes and flashes of gold.
The artist graduated from the Fine Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, where he was awarded both the Merit Award and Presidential Scholarship.
Guest lectures delivered at Harvard University, Concordia University and the University of Minnesota - amongst other prominent institutions.
Sheppard’s thoughtful and expressive works combine paint, charcoal and 24-karat gold leaf, depicting familiar scenes of everyday life like children at play or people relaxing in their homes. An impressionistic language of wide, rough-edged brush strokes blurs codes of figuration and abstraction. The brisk mark-making suggests movement, giving the canvases a sense of life and dynamism. Sheppard’s palette combines pale beige washes with bursts of bright colour and deep black backgrounds. The dark skin tones of the figures place Black narratives at the centre of Sheppard’s practice. The series Americana (2019), for example, depicts 1950s America from the perspective of children. Focusing on their hand-games and cultural traditions of call and response, Sheppard sheds light on the normalcy, resilience and beauty of humanity in spite of the violence perpetrated against Black people in America at the time. Sheppard further explores racial and ethnic identity in his work as writer, photographer, record producer, and activist.
A key motif in Sheppard’s work is that of a mother and child, symbolic of the human instinct to nurture and protect. Bond (2020) sees a mother gently holding her infant - a sense of exultation emanates from the painting. The baby is adorned with patches of gold leaf, a material associated with enlightenment and saintliness, and the mother is sketched in brisk lines of charcoal and paint. The baby’s golden aura contrasts the business of the surrounding sketch, focusing the viewer less on its physical form and instead on its radiance.
Sheppard’s work is a tender and affirmative call to action. As the artist explains, “right now, we live in an age where there is so much disagreement and turmoil, we need to focus on the things that are truly important.” By re-focusing on family, children and humanity in the face of racial inequality, Sheppard pulls together personal and collective histories, imploring the viewer to consider the importance of love, compassion and community. Acting as a narrator for the everyday experience of important and oft-forgotten Black histories, Sheppard’s impassioned paintings imbue kindness, strength, and hope.
“I think of my paintings as timeless, and the works are emotional to me, like scents.” – Ferrari Sheppard