Written for Artkestry
Luvon Sheppard’s exhibit is a balancing act of density and levity: dense in imagery and intent, and light in palette and translucency. Sheppard’s world is a place where Christian, religious, and spiritual motifs proliferate – horses, lions, eagles, fish, hearts, crosses, angelic wings, bread, and water. Yet the imagery is not didactic nor proselytizing but imbued with a transparent sense of genuine spirituality-translated-into-humanity.
Rochester’s history and humanity are expressed in downtown scenes and legendary portraits, Sheppard’s tribute to his native city. Well, almost, as the artist moved here with his family at age 5. Revelation II, a 1991 watercolor, appears to be set in the Washington Square Park area. The well-executed cityscape dovetails with the layering of allegory: a stampede of “Marlboro” horses in reflective windows, whose own images are reflected in the water through which they gallop; a chalice and cross tucked into a corner of the commercial building’s window; and a simulated “in God we trust” from the ubiquitous American dollar bill floating prominently across the picture plane. The viewer is left to connect the proverbial “dots” in this visual relationship.
The 4×4.5-foot acrylic on canvas Obama is an example of the co-mingling of sacred and secular. A bust of Barack Obama looks skyward to the bust of his self-proclaimed mentor Abraham Lincoln – a ghostly image floating among the clouds albeit anchored on a 5-dollar bill. The rendering of the “5″ brings to mind Charles Demuth’s Figure 5 in gold and Jasper Johns’ #5, although Sheppard does not cite either of these artists among his influences. Among the other ghost images are the eagle, lion, and horse, conjuring yet another reference: C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. The formal artistic elements of other works, such as the 2006 acrylic painting Bread for Wine or the 2006 Ascending, are overshadowed by their overt religiosity.
Two personal favorites are the 2010 watercolor, Circle of Influence, and the 1996 mixed media, Martin Luther King’s Fence. A “fence” of paper weaving overlays a neighborhood landscape and surrounds a superimposed watercolor comprised of tenebristically-rendered silhouettes of Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. The silhouettes themselves are composed of photo-montage-like images. All of Sheppard’s visual imagery appears purposeful yet occasionally cryptic. Martin Luther King’s Fence bridges the span between the artist’s two-dimensional watercolors and his three-dimensional wood, metal and found-object sculptures. In Circle of Influence, it is the use of graphite and pen, as well as watercolor, that appeals and makes the iconic political and cultural figures - Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, and others - more immediately accessible.