Collagist Stuart Sheldon believes in the mystical power of art, and turns his focus not only on Texas but on marriage equality for his Dallas debut
When he was in his mid-30s, Stuart Sheldon found himself divorced and broken. Lonely, he began to fantasize about the perfect woman and — a la Pygmalion — started painting his ideal. For two years, he toiled, producing 35 silhouettes of the loving partner he longed for — “the woman of my dreams,” he says.
Well, dreams can come true.
He soon met someone who looked exactly like the woman he had painted. They fell madly in love, and decided to start a family. But after three miscarriages, it seemed like that, too, would remain a dream. So he went back to the studio.
“I [painted] a series designed exclusively to bring forth our child,” Sheldon says. On their next attempt at conceiving, their son was born.
Clearly, Sheldon is a devoted believer in the transformative power of art.
“Since the beginning, I have used my art with a very specific creative intention, to manifest those things most fundamentally important to my life,” he says. Recently, he’s turned that focus on the LGBT community. Sheldon will open a show at the ilume Gallerie Sept. 12, that not only brings Texas into his sights, but also marriage equality.
The Best Books Ever Written is an ongoing series by the painter and collagist, who is based in Miami. Sheldon takes great works of literature and repurposes their covers into new and engaging large-scale works.
“The idea for chopping up book covers hit me last summer when I was completing my [memoir, A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece, which chronicles his struggle to start a family]. I wanted to call upon the creative magic that has served me so well over the years,” he says. “I have been chopping up antique maps and cookbooks for many years, though never with the same degree of magnitude or commitment found in these epic paintings.”
Not one to do things half-heartedly, Sheldon set out specifically to ensure that his book should become not just successful but a bestseller. He launched his series at the highly respected exhibition Art Basel in 2014, surrounding the title page of his manuscript with covers from literary classics: Moby-Dick, Lolita, 1984 and more.
“These literary masterpieces dance and swirl around and through my manuscript, infusing it with their magic,” Sheldon explains, imbuing his own work with the mantel of classic.
He’s expanded his reach since that first in the series. “For the original piece, I used only books that I had read, books that moved me and made a difference in my life,” he explains.
“But as the series broadened, I started to find sub-themes to explore, books that spoke to a particularly compelling idea, such as the sea, or childhood heroes or dystopian love. I began to discover literature that I would never have known about and that showed me new points of view.”
His Dallas show will feature all-new paintings made expressly for this exhibition. “When I was invited to show in Dallas, I felt compelled to honor the rich literary history of Texas, a history bursting with lore and mythology,” he says. “I looked for authors who personified this unique Texas spirit: Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Domingo Martinez. At the time, I also wanted to capture the torrential rains that had hit the state. And so the piece represents rainfall.”
As he decided to wind down the series, he wanted to concentrate on something of great significance. But how to find a suitable conclusion? So he went all out.
“The Supreme Court decision on gay marriage came down, and I recognized a perfect opportunity to honor an historic event and drill into an entirely fresh literary niche,” he says. “I researched the LGBT literary canon and discovered an amazing treasure trove of books that share the stories of the gay journey and struggle and the beauty and sensitivities wrapped up in those journeys. I was pleasantly surprised by how many authors I recognized: Baldwin, Vidal, Proust. But I was equally delighted by the vast number of titles I had never heard of. This painting has been a wonderful education for me.”
Look closely, and you will see covers from authors like Michael Chabon, Rita Mae Brown, Larry Kramer, Armistead Maupin, Jeffrey Eugenides and more, all looping together in a ribbon of color.
Sheldon was delighted by the coincidence that not only is the ilume Gallerie run by out artist Ron Radwanski, but that “one of America’s premier gay libraries sits right across the street,” the Oak Lawn Library. And the show would fishtail with Dallas Pride as well. The universe seemed to be calling to Sheldon.
“I do not believe in coincidences. All of these exciting developments have only affirmed for me the power and magic of heartfelt creative intention.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 4, 2015.