By JILL ZAREND-KUBATKO, Valley Life Editor April 19, 2005
Artist bonds with subjects, translates insights onto canvas.
ELOY - It can take an instant, a fleeting moment to discover a kinship within another human.
The experience of a newfound comfort level, trust or peacefulness seen in the eyes and revealed on the face, forms an instant emotional connection.
For Duffy Sheridan the marvel of this relationship may register in a flash, but the process to recapture its essence on canvas can take the artist months to perfect.
One glimpse of his completed work and the reality and awe of the emotional connection he sought has been found and is painstakingly translated onto canvas for eternity. The time involved to paint is well worth it.
Last month Sheridan, who resides in the Baha’i Desert Rose Community at Eloy, was given two prestigious awards for his portraits “Trust” and “Self Portrait 2004.”
“Trust” was awarded the Chairman’s Choice Award at the Art Renewal Center’s Salon. His depiction of an African-American woman in colorful native dress, with hands gracefully opened, was one of 1,500 entries from artists of 30 different countries.
Using a mirror, Sheridan created his “self-portrait 2004” and was given the Director’s Award at the International Guild of Realism’s Exhibition at the Pan American Gallery in Dallas.
Realism is a lost art. With modern art pushing aside the reality of life, Sheridan is much more akin to the great masters of another era. He takes time to delve deep into his model’s soul, to find the one visage summing up the subject’s unspoken communication.
Sheridan explains his fascination with the human form as seeking what he “finds emotionally attractive” in the subject. “It’s the human quality, the bonding. Something I want to capture like ‘hope’,” Sheridan said of his eight-year series exploring “Divine Qualities and Attributes.”
“Technically speaking, Sheridan’s figures are photographic with an illustrator’s concern for surface appearance and tightly blended, minute detail rather than the traditional substance of fine art form,” the archives of AskART.com said.
Sheridan’s work has attracted the attention of collectors on five continents and is included in government, corporate and private collections. His paintings can be found in prestigious institutions from a cathedral in the South Pacific to the U.S. Air Force Academy to corporate headquarters in Manhattan, as well as in the private residences of kings, judges, bishops, doctors and collectors all over the world, his Web site www.duffysheridan.com said.
Last year Sheridan was named one of the top 40 living masters of realistic painting in the world. A lofty homage to carry, but those who have viewed his masterpieces are in awe and cannot believe his paintings are not photographs or the model will not walk out of the canvas.
“There has been a lot of controversy lately calling into question the drawing abilities of the old masters; suggesting that they were not skilled draftsmen, but relied on mechanical aids,” Sheridan said of his newest self-portrait.
“This started me thinking about the drawing ability of these great painters. Even though they may have chosen different methods of shortcuts, I believe they were all good draftsmen, some better than others. I decided to make a personal comment by way of producing a new self-portrait using only a mirror as an example of how artists are quite capable of very accurate drawing without the use of mechanical aids - especially the great masters of the past. I generally do a new self-portrait every four or five years. I sometimes wonder if artists paint self-portraits because they get frustrated with models who won’t sit still!”
Sheridan, a self-taught artist, has it in his genes to paint. He worked as a youth with his father, a traditional painter creating seascapes with boats and landscapes, among other things. Sheridan’s father had created a cartoon named “Duffy” and, he explained, he apparently resembled the character as a baby. The name stuck and Duffy Sheridan has remained his name.
“I was always surrounded with art,” Sheridan said. “My father said, ‘If you’re ever going to be any good, you have to learn to paint everything’.”
“When you are interested in something, you constantly pay attention. The more I painted the better I got. Painters take a long time to develop. All kids who love art sat around and drew and doodled on test papers. Most of us were terrible students in school.”
Sheridan tells the story of when he was a child of about 11 or 12, he would leave school during an open lunch hour and go to a Chinese restaurant. He would order and as he waited, he would doodle on napkins.
The restaurant employees were impressed by his napkin art. “Somewhere along the line, we traded napkins for lunch,” he explained. “You don’t think much about it at the time.”
“Duffy did not attend art school,” said his wife, Jeanne. “As a child he learned the basics of how to paint from his father. During the early years Duffy was free to practice and master his painting techniques and develop his style.”
He experimented with different styles and eventually painted what would “strike his fancy.” Abstract art did not because, he said, he has always been a physical observer.
“It’s what moves my heart, emotionally. I am easily inspired by things. I think because I know I have the ability to translate what I see to canvas. It comes pretty easy to me. I love the process of paying attention,” he said.
“If you are paying attention you are obviously stimulated by what you see. So you become a realist,” he added.
He and his wife of 35 years live in a quiet home off a dirt road in the Baha’i community. Outside and inside of the house are the couple’s creations. At the heart of their home is Sheridan’s studio.
The room is filled with his “people paintings,” those in progress and those he has set aside to continue later. A container holds many brushes and his oils are never far from reach.
“Most of his early work was not sold,” Jeanne said. “But as the work improved, a lot more was saved and sold. Duffy’s belief has always been that the only thing of any importance is to produce work as good as possible and when he knows that a particular piece is lacking, it does not see completion and release,” she said.
But when he “hits a wall” and cannot quite create what is in his mind, the portrait goes off the easel and is hung on a wall for future inspiration.
“The work that is currently hanging on the wall all has potential. If it does not have potential, it is painted over and the canvas used for something better,” Jeanne said.
Next to where he sits to paint, a dressmaker’s mannequin wears a lacy top and skirt he uses to study its textures and the way it lies on the body. A slight bump of the “model” and it can throw off the artist’s work.
Several colorful clothes hang on the left wall and many are familiar from his paintings. The African garb worn in “Trust” is visible.
Surrounding his easel are photographs of his grandchildren and artwork he admires. When Sheridan finds art he enjoys, he uses it as inspiration to improve his craft.
“I didn’t aspire to paint this way, but I like to paint and I keep in my periphery what I consider to be great art,” he explained. “My friends would include in a letter, a snapshot of art they thought I would like. If I knew it was better than what I was doing, I would tack it to the easel. It would help elevate myself.”
True to Sheridan’s philosophy on emotional connections, it didn’t take but a moment to find his new bride. He met his wife during the peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll ‘60s era in the San Francisco Bay area.
“Duffy was night manager of a supermarket and I was on the morning shift at a coffee shop next door,” Jeanne said. “He came in for breakfast every morning and that was the beginning. We had our first date and 10 days later we were married. That was in 1969.”
Sheridan still wears his hair long, albeit gray now, pulled into a ponytail. His white Fu Manchu mustache adds character to his sincere features. His wife sports dreadlocks and has a down-home comfortable demeanor. The two have two grown sons, Eli and Max, and three grandchildren.
The Sheridans have made many journeys around the world since they first met. They lived in the Falkland Islands for seven years, Samoa for five and then moved to Arizona, first Sedona before the Desert Rose community.
They lived in the Falklands from 1976 to 1983. There he painted his realistic “figure paintings” of seafaring men, lighthouse keepers, neighbors and Anya Smith, their babysitter, with whose family they resided during the Falklands war. “Eleven of us slept in a bunker under their house for 56 nights,” the artist relayed on his Web site.
Anya’s painting was on the cover of the London Sunday Times Magazine, along with 11 other portraits inside. These paintings also were featured at the Royal Festival Hall in London before touring the United States.
He was commissioned to produce 11 commemorative postage stamps depicting the periods, events and places significant in the history of the Falkland Islands for a 150th anniversary. He painted the oval vignettes while another, Ian Strange, designed the graphic layout of the stamps.
Sheridan said the isolation in the Falklands was a blessing. He was able to work uninhibited. “There are not many more places more isolated than there. It was just part of the lifestyle, so I had freedom to experiment and develop my painting abilities,” he said.
Another destination helped him further his artistic endeavors: Samoa, where the family lived “out in the bush,” he said. “It was a little house with the jungle around.
People lived in the jungle. It was great, when any activity happened they just showed up.” There he was commissioned to paint the portrait of the king of Samoa and an 8- by 11-foot mural for the Catholic Diocese of Samoa.
They moved to Sedona and he continued to paint the beauty around him as well as figures, placing them into interesting Southwestern backgrounds.
The life of an artist can be hard with a lot of competition, Sheridan said. “A lot of times to make a living you have to work for others. I was asked to produce more and more and people were attracted to it. That is what is expected.”
“You paint to satisfy the market. At some point you are the market,” he added.
Jeanne recently has taken up ceramics at Central Arizona College. She creates remarkable pots made from a variety of sources. One such piece began as a terra cotta slab and was shaped and burnished for eight hours, then fired in a mixture of coffee grounds, sawdust and rose petals to get the desired effect.
She is learning various methods, such as using coils and slabs, to create her ceramic gems. Jeanne has chosen to hand-create her art, as opposed to throwing pots on a wheel. In a horseback riding incident while riding with her 12-year-old grandson, she dislocated her elbow and never went back to the pottery wheel. “I could never be a production potter,” she explained. “I’m more of a one-of-a-kind artist.”
Her imagination shows on the grounds of their home as well as inside the house. Along the front porch are pieces of ceramic glass forming a winding river across the entryway and down the steps, ending in a “puddle” off the side of the home.
Collected rocks from Utah and Colorado surround the pot that holds the “water” flow.
The handrails leading into the house are Jeanne’s individually handcrafted ceramic squares in blue, white and bright yellows. An outdoor herb garden and sitting area are under construction, next to a gently flowing waterfall built by the Sheridans. Nothing is completed. “Everything becomes a work in progress,” Jeanne joked. “Or an art project.”
Their Baha’i faith plays a significant role in their philosophy of art. About nine years ago, the couple were the original caretakers of the Desert Rose community. The ultimate goal of the residents is to live in harmony and create an atmosphere of uninhibited artistic expression. They are striving to build a school of art, Jeanne said.
The essential message of the Baha’i Faith, taught by its founder Baha’u”llah, is that of unity. There is only one God, one human race and all the world’s religions have been stages in the revelation of God’s will and purpose for humanity.
Baha’u’llah wrote: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”
As in Sheridan’s faith and art, harmony and balance are always sought. Through his canvas he shows his mind’s study and evaluation at becoming a self-trained physical observer.
“I am more focused, more stimulated by a rock or flower, of the highlights of a skin tone. Applying paint to translate what I am looking at is stimulating. It is amazing how valuable everything is. Artists are pretty basic; we are trying to record something in our imagination.”
With so many creative aspects a part of their daily lives, the Sheridans’ life is a never-ending adventure. And like the process of learning their chosen artistic expressions, they themselves have become a work in progress.
©Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc. 2006