Artist of the Month: Thomas Sheehan

Mother and Child (oil, 48×40)
by Thomas Sheehan was a Portrait finalist in the 23rd Annual Art Competition.


Residence: Oak Park, Illinois

Inspiration for this Painting: This is part of a series I’m working on exploring the concept of people on display, in display cases. The concept is based on experiences I had as a child going to the local zoo. I immediately went to the primate house to see the gorillas and was struck by the gorillas’ apparent sadness. I wondered what it would be like if the tables were turned, if we were the ones caged with no hope of release. How would we react to outside viewers watching every move we made?

In Mother and Child I explore what could be a tender moment, or a tragic moment if the child is dead. I leave it to the viewer to decide what’s happening. The translation comes in part from what the viewer expects or wants. This reaction is as important as the painting itself.

Working Process: I work mainly from photographs. I have ideas for the subject, emotions, lighting and composition I want and then shoot a variety of photos of models and backgrounds. I work too slowly and at too odd of hours to use models for the length of the painting.

My color palette for in this series is intentionally limited. The subdued colors and simple staging allow the focus to be on the emotion of the piece.

I worked carefully on this piece to find the right balance between light and shadow, particularly in the mother’s face. I wanted the focus to be on the child more than the mother. I painted the scene thinking that, despite the ambiguity, most would regard the moment as tender and affectionate. But by far, most see the moment as very sad, that the boy had died.

Why He Creates Art: It’s the only thing I want to do. Art is such an important part of my life that everything I see, feel or do is directly connected to it.


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