Taking a Cool Trip

By Marsha Pearce Saturday, December 1st, 2012 Categories: Features, Updates

I just want to give you enough information to take you there and be confident that what I have given you is enough.
– Peter Sheppard. Personal communication with the artist, November 6, 2012.

In his seminal book entitled Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Canadian communications theorist Marshall McLuhan makes a distinction between what he calls a hot medium and a cold one. According to McLuhan, a hot medium provides details. A hot medium is “well filled with data.” In contradistinction to a hot medium, a cool medium requires the audience to fill in the blanks. Cool media demand a higher degree of participation, greater interaction and engagement. “Any hot medium allows less participation than a cool one, as a lecture makes for less participation than a seminar,” writes McLuhan. The medium – like a lecture or seminar – is any vehicle or channel through which ideas and views are communicated and by which meanings are made and negotiated. What McLuhan proposes is a variance in the nature of media and the attendant differences in the way in which we relate and connect with those media.

Peter Sheppard- Stop 5" round. Edition 3 of 3

Peter Sheppard’s artworks have long been hot – providing rich, details of place. For many years, he has used acrylic paint with stunning precision to render landscapes in high definition. In 2011, Sheppard attempted to deviate from this familiar creative route and take a risk with the look and feel of his work, which he presented in a joint exhibition with his mother Margaret – an exhibition, which opened on Margaret Sheppard’s birthday. Peter Sheppard shares:

I came to a crossroads. I felt a little stagnant in the way I was painting, although I enjoy doing very detailed paintings. I wanted to allow not what my mind knows for all these years of painting but allow some new process to occur. So I started experimenting…using the palette knife and providing less details on the canvas and allowing your mind, the viewer, to fill in and allow you too to have a feeling about what the scene is. I just want to give you enough information to take you there and be confident that what I have given you is enough (personal communication with the artist, November 6, 2012).

Peter Sheppard- Before the rain- picnic 6x8

Sheppard describes a want for a cooling of his images; a want to hold back some visual data so that he gives us just enough for us to start the engine of our imagination and push down on the accelerator of our emotions. Sheppard’s 2012 exhibition entitled “Road Trip” demonstrates a continuation of his efforts to experiment, to take a road less travelled by him. This exhibition attempts to offer us a cool trip as Sheppard works to transform his art-making style and present us with a painted canvas medium that moves from hot to cold. By “providing less details on the canvas,” Road Trip, then, is an effort to engage us more deeply, to truly invite us along and have us participate in the ride. Road Trip asks us to take the “scenic” route in our interactions with the paintings on display. I use the word scenic here in a very specific way to refer to a longer, more sustained and personal involvement with each painted image. Sheppard aims to forestall any viewer experience of a quick trip from point A to B.

Outside of his art-making practice, Sheppard knows a lot about taking long and engaging trips –knowledge he owes in great part to his father. The Road Trip exhibition is a tribute to him. Its opening date – November 20, 2012 – is the birthday of the late Frederick Stephen Sheppard who would have been sixty-eight years old this year. He was a prolific landscape painter who had a passion for hitting the road and discovering new trails. Peter Sheppard talks about the family custom of taking long road trips:

My grandfather who lived in Barbados, used to take all of them, including my dad –pack the whole kit and caboodle in the car – and they would go on long road trips and, to go from point A to point B they had to go the long way just because it might be more scenic. That’s just how he did it and my father did the same thing and I think I have inherited that because I love driving and taking people along on my long trips (personal communication with the artist, November 6, 2012).

Peter Sheppard- Write on My Wall Installation

Peter Sheppard- Write on My Wall Installation

It is this love for going on trips and taking people along that Sheppard aims to inject into this exhibition. On this creative road trip he takes new trails not only in how he plays with details but also in terms of scale. Sheppard’s niche is miniature painting. He often works with a canvas size of 2”x3”, using a triple zero sable brush with a fine point to paint every tiny aspect of a scene. “My challenge there,” he explains, “is to get the entire landscape in as small a format as possible.” Yet, Sheppard admits: “miniature painting is my thing but there are times when I feel I want to put a big canvas there and get a brush that is four inches wide and slap paint on.” Sheppard’s tiny canvas paintings offer a concentrated heat with every minute detail packed in and presented to the viewer. His larger canvas works, however, allow him to offer something that is cooler: a painted communication medium that lets us get inside the scene and add our own details.

Peter Sheppard- River's Mouth 24" x36"

Peter Sheppard’s “Road Trip” illustrates the artist’s efforts to grow, to journey toward a cold destination. He remains aware though that the journey is not one to be hurried. He shares: “There are people who say ‘I love your little, detailed paintings’ and I still want to provide that to those people but I want to develop how I paint, how I handle the canvas, how I handle the paint, otherwise I feel I will be showing you the same exhibition year after year. I would like to get a lot more expressive. I think this is a process that will go on for a little while. I need to spend more time in my studio just playing with things and allowing the progression to take its natural course.”

Marsha Pearce
Marsha Pearce

Marsha Pearce is ARC’s Senior Arts Writer and Editor. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, Trinidad. She lectures in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI and is also a freelance arts writer for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper. Pearce is the 2006 Rhodes Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellow.