25 Sharon Sprung
"Speaking poetically, one should always be a student, and I consider myself that. Every time I stand in front of a model, I am a student trying to figure out the puzzle."
“Because I’m a realist, my pet peeve is a painting that tries to be a photograph.”
Sharon Sprung is an incredible portrait painter from Brooklyn, NY. She paints in oils, on wood panels. She's been exhibiting internationally since 1975, primarily in NYC. She's taught drawing and painting at the Art Student's League, and the Nat. Academy School of Fine Arts (which gave her a lifetime achievement award), and she's given workshops for the Portrait Society of America and the Russian Academy of Art in St. Petersburg. She's won the Purchase Prize and the Bouguereau Award from the ARC, first place (two times) in the Portrait Society of America's competitions (where she is a signature member), first place from the Artist's Magazine and countless other awards. BuzzFeed named her one of the top 100 realist painters living today. Sharon's response was (Cassidy, 2018), "Well, if I didn’t make the list, I’d be concerned. But having made the list, I’m not sure how much it actually means." Sharon was commissioned to paint the portrait of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the US Congress. She's currently serving as vice president for the Artist's Fellowship.
Sharon talks a bit about her childhood in this interview with Stephanie Cassidy (Art Student's League, 2018):
"I think I was born an observer. Even as a child I remember being quiet and just looking around at my world. I knew things from looking, not from listening. When you grow up in a family that has a lot of disruption, you learn to not always believe what people are saying. Sometimes you can feel that discrepancy as a child. I think most children feel this anyway."
Sharon studied at the Art Student's League in NYC, the Nat. Academy of Design in NY, and Cornell University. Her teachers were Daniel Greene and Harvey Dinnerstein. While financing her education was a struggle, Sharon was helped when she received the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant and the Stacey Foundation Grant. Sharon talks about her struggle as a young student, when her mother was against her decision:
". . . at the beginning, when I was nineteen, I had to make some difficult decisions because I would be isolated in my family if I chose to be a painter. Partially, I was driven by anger and sheer will, which is important, but that choice was the right one for me. It was something that, if you sat and thought about it, committing to be a painter would not be a great idea. But I knew it was right, with the instincts of youth understanding their truth."
Sharon talks about her art on her website:
"My paintings are a carefully observed negotiation, manipulated layer upon layer in order to create a work of art as equivalent as possible to the complexity of real life. They are an attempt to control the almost uncontrollable substance that is oil paint, and the equally untamable expression of the human condition.
"Pushing around puddles of this almost living substance, I am endlessly defining and redefining the craft of oil painting to fabricate an animated, breathing image grounded in the recognizable and familiar. Since I am purposefully involved with the contemporary world, I always seek to merge it with a surface that is at once abstractly patterned and textured, and that combines a meticulous respect for realism with the power of the personal image to speak a universal language. I want the subject and its environment to collide through the use of echo and repetition to form a united composition. We are constantly bombarded visually and I hope to infuse my work with a way of engaging the viewer that is both evocatively silent and powerfully commanding."
Sharon talks about the power of portraiture (Cassidy, 2018):
"Observation was my way of navigating the world. When I do a painting, I do my best to know that person. I’m not sure how I know that person, but by working on the eye, or the nose, or the lip, or the shape of the head, or the gesture, or any movement, I get to know that person. Could I tell you about them? No, not in words, but I know them, and that’s what comes across in the paintings—at least I hope it does. They are individuals, and they have their own particularity."
She continues in this article (Hafesh, 2008):
“Finishing a painting is the hardest,” she says. “You can murder a painting by mindlessly cleaning up and polishing rather than letting the painting finish itself. You have to maintain the open-ended energy and possibility that created the painting; you have to let that energy continue to flow. At the end, I want to feel that the portrait still breathes the way it breathed to me when I started.”
'Black & White in Motion'
Sharon worked on a series of portraits of single mothers in her Brooklyn neighborhood. She talks about them in this article by Louise Hafesh (The Artist's Magazine, 2008):
“After I gave birth to my son,” she explains, “I suddenly became aware of these 15- and 16-year-old girls with children in my Brooklyn neighborhood. It was overwhelming to me that, while we faced similar issues, they were without the support system and many of the resources that I had. . . .Part of the street thing is getting to know your subject over time, sensing their character and how they relate to the world. Feeling deeply and expressing that interaction are what I consider most important to the process of making art. These young women spoke to and for me. I like to hope that the paintings are thought-provoking and that, because they transcend literal interpretation, they temporarily capture the observer within a world I try to create."
Sharon gives this advice to working from life (Hafesh, 2008):
“First, spend more time looking at the model than painting the model. Study the subject without putting paint on the canvas; analyze the subject visually so that you know it. Second, don’t be self-critical while you’re working or, to put it in athletic terms, you’ll choke. For example, if you name elements, like ‘nose,’ ‘ear,’ ‘lip,’ and so on, while you’re painting them, preconceived notions will trap you in the idea of a nose when your job is to record the visual reality in front of you. As Arthur Koestler said, ‘Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.’”
'Wind & Water'
Sharon also says (Hafesh, 2008), “If you paint with confidence, your work will reflect that confidence. Make each brushstroke mean something. It’s OK to make a lot of strokes, because one is bound to be correct. Change colors when the planes of a face change. Don’t use ivory black by itself, as it tends to crack; always mix it with another color. Sometimes a color may seem wrong; let it be and correct it the next time you paint. Always paint as if you’re preparing the canvas for the next day.”
'See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil'
Sharon talks about her favorite brand of paints (Cassidy, 2018):
"I use Vasari, which is a fabulous handmade paint. Most of the store bought ones are milled by machine and sometimes wax is added as a way of tubing. But Vasari is just so beautiful. It’s like little jewels of paint. The colors are very saturated and work beautifully together. There are times during the day when I am mixing paint that I have to remind myself to stop. Moving the paint around with a palette knife and seeing the subtle gradations of the colors as I mix, it is often hard for me to stop and get to putting it on the canvas."
Sharon mentions her greatest artistic influences in her artist statement:
"The artists I have been most influenced by are quite diverse: Caravaggio, Velazquez, Egon Schiele and Kathe Kollwitz. Their paintings share both a profound respect and reverence for the individual with the power and the wisdom to explore those themes that haunt us: man's strength, resilience and sensuality, together with the possession of an almost shocking clarity in this pursuit. I believe in the transformative powers of painting: that the luminosity of pigment and medium is as manifest as the surface of the soul."
'Portrait of a Pioneer (Jeannette Rankin)', 2004
'Bettina at the Closet'
'B in a Rocking Chair'
'Portrait of Li'
'Portrait of L'
'Portrait of M'
'Portrait of L'
'Mother & Son'
'Hyacinths - Tulips'