Michael Shepherd’s paintings possess an uneasy familiarity. His subjects seem part of everyday life: a slice of land glimpsed from a car window, a curiosity stumbled upon when out walking, those bits and pieces found in a spare-room cupboard. The uncertainty engendered by his works is that these familiar, even common, objects are not necessarily tied to a particular temporal or spatial point. Shepherd blurs time and space on the canvas, suggesting that while a ‘thing’ may exist in and of itself, over time it accrues layers of history that change how it is viewed. A landscape might possess today the same outcrops and hummocks as a century ago, but the lives that have been lived on and around it colour those selfsame outcrops and hummocks with story.
Using techniques drawn from 17th century Dutch painters, the physical creation of Shepherd’s works mirror his conceptual vision. Layers of paint (often oils) and glazes are built up to reveal and simultaneously obscure what he lays down on the canvas. The translucency of the surfaces absorb and reflect light in an understated manner; New Zealand’s much-discussed, harsh clarity of light does not feature in Shepherd’s painting, they show more affinity for the muted tones of North European days.
Michael Shepherd was born in Hamilton in 1950 and graduated with a Diploma of Fine Arts (Honours) from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland in 1979. He has been a regular exhibitor since the 1980s and was awarded an M.N.Z.M (Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit) for services to the Arts in 2008. Shepherd’s works are to be found in a number of significant public and private collections, including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Auckland Art Gallery, and the Christchurch Art Gallery. The latter hosted a solo exhibition of Shepherd’s work, Archived, in 2000.