PETER SHEPPARD is known for his miniatures, but his latest exhibition, opening next week, will feature some comparatively big new works – even though painting big pieces has been a traumatic experience for him at least once in the past.
Sheppard, who works with acrylics, will show at least 20 new landscapes at the Y Art & Framing Gallery from September 10-29.
About Day Dreamin', the new exhibition, Sheppard told Newsday, “I am not showing any of my miniatures on this occasion, as I wanted to really get into painting with a large surface. My largest panels in the show are 36 inches by 48 inches."
These are by no means the largest work he's done. Many years ago, he recalled, he did a painting workshop at CCA7 with British artist Peter Doig, and on the day they were to paint landscapes, he pulled out his little five-by-seven-inch canvas and triple-zero brush, as he normally does – then heard what sounded like the voice of God telling him: "You! You are not gonna paint so small today."
It was Doig, who taped a large sheet of paper on the wall, then brought out gallons of emulsion paint and a brush that Sheppard said you could use to paint Granny’s wall for Christmas with. After that, Doig told him, "Carry on."
"It was dreadful at first, but I soon found myself lunging at the large painting with great vigour.
"The outcome was awful, but completely liberating. Combined with seeing my work blown up on the Oval wall and on the Port of Spain Waterfront, I was able to see my work at this scale and went on to paint my biggest painting to date, measuring 15 feet by six feet, which now lives in Barbados," Sheppard said.
Sheppard, who has been painting for the past 24 years, said while growing up, he was influenced by both his parents, who were also painters, so much so their styles, subjects and palette are related. But Sheppard focused on his gift and made it his career.
On leaving St Anthony’s College, Sheppard studied communication design (the business of art and practical art-making) at the International Fine Arts College in Miami. On his return to Trinidad in the mid-80s, he worked at the airport, in the travel and tourism industry, until he switched to become a professional artist.
Over the years he has mentored students, judged junior and senior Carnival events and art competitions, has a stamp issued by TT Post, won awards overseas for his miniatures and is currently the president of the Art Society of TT.
"My personality is very easygoing and patriotic. A passion for our beloved TT drives me to love all our festivals and observances. I love to drive all over the place, showing my friends and/or visitors the beauty of our islands. It’s by looking on as I drive around and observe that I mentally record a sense of our landscape and all its quirks,” he said.
The epicentre of Sheppard’s creative realm, however, is in the Northern Range. He's spent his entire life with the hills in his line of sight. This, he said, accounts for the lushness in his landscapes. “There is a place that I consider sacred, and whenever stuck, I can go there and sit and allow the serenity of the space to consume me and bring me back. That is a special spot along the Marianne River off the Blanchisseuse/Arima Road. Works like a charm. Pure magic.”
Sheppard, who was always intrigued by the art world and loved painting landscapes, said when his father Stephen died in 1993, to some degree he left the baton with him, while his mother Margaret still paints, and they still have joint exhibitions.
While working at Piarco, Sheppard started doing tours with his crew and other visitors, and people became aware of his paintings, so he would do small paintings which they could easily travel with to remind them of their time in Trinidad.
He had started selling his art at 16. Around that time, renowned artist Carlisle Chang recognised his talent and invited him to participate in the art buyers’ fair at the Old Teachers Training College. “I made my little three-by-four-inch paintings and sold them with a crudely made mini-easel. These were my first initial sales (selling price $45) and the genesis of my award-winning miniature art.
"The late Peter Kwang of the On Location Art Gallery in Long Circular Mall was also among the first to sell my work commercially. We developed our relationship from then and I was involved with the naming of and signage for his gallery on the ground level of Long Circular Mall,” said Sheppard, who also designed Kwang’s booth at one of the trade fairs in the National Stadium, for which they won an award for best-designed small booth.
Sheppard’s debut solo exhibition was in December 1994 at the 101 Gallery and since then he has had over two dozen exhibitions there, some with his mother. Since his Masque exhibition in 2004 at Y Gallery, he has shown his work at both galleries.
Internationally, Sheppard belongs to the Hilliard Society of Miniature Painters and Engravers, based in Wells, Somerset in the United Kingdom. He usually submits three to five pieces each year for the annual members' show. In 2013 he was awarded the Sue Burton Award for Best in Show for a series of three miniatures in sepia tones.
He also attends Art Basel in Florida every December. “It’s North America’s largest art fair, attracting galleries, art, artists, art patrons from around the world. The event has grown and now includes several auxiliary fairs, making it now known as Miami Art Week. One such fair is Red Dot Art Fair and one year I showed my small paintings via the Essex Gallery of the US at Red Dot. Adding to this, the Armory Show in New York City in the spring and between all these shows I harvest the trends of today's movers and shakers in the art world.”
Jokingly, Sheppard says his ultimate goal would be to leave a legacy of landscape paintings, to continue to develop his style, and show his works in a gallery abroad – and world domination.
More seriously, “My goals would be to continue to be inspired by my beloved TT. Enjoy this gift that God has bestowed unto me and allow it to develop and to engage an audience who will appreciate its value for the rest of time.”