Burton Silverman: Life Examined

“In the past 10 years, I?ve worked in a handful of themes, and I keep coming back to them because they?re not resolved. So I have to find new ways to investigate them. There?s an old phrase, ?The unexamined life is not worth living.? Well, that can be carried too far. But certainly, as an artist, I feel that?s what motivates me.”


I Am a Dancer (oil, 30×24)

When he finds a scene that strikes a resonant chord, Silverman takes reference photos. But in his case, reference is spelled with a capital “R.” “I select; I don?t really record,” he says. “I say ‘there are some things about this that were important, the quality in the people themselves?what they seem to be experiencing inside and what I seem to feel about them as a spectator outside.’ So choosing the right moment and the right configuration and/or the right colors so that viewers experience it the way you intend is all part of the conceptualizing process.”

To aid in this process, Silverman typically begins with compositional sketches. “I start out in black and white and I do several versions of the scene,” he says. “It?s like making a movie. Someone does a lot of little sketches to decide if you want a close up or a long shot. I get to that point and I say ‘OK, in small scale, it seems to be working.’ Sometimes when you blow it up or you enlarge it certain things happen that reveal inherent problems.

Silverman chooses one area and develops it first. This area then serves as a reference for the rest of the painting. “I call it a dialectic in paint,” he says. “One statement that says ?That?s the theory or the thesis?I want that light or that color.? Then the antithesis comes in and says ?Hey, wait a minute; Maybe I can make that stronger by doing something which is a reverse.?” He works quickly to get the image on canvas, then, he says, “the painting sort of arrives at a stage where I say ?Yeah, that?s it.? But then I let the piece sit around for awhile and see what the half life is. If it makes it to two months or three months and still feels OK, I don?t really have to add anything.”

“When people come into my gallery, they see a commitment to the future,” Bradley Shoemaker says. “And they see a strong statement as to where I’m coming from.” Shoemaker holds a B.S. from Mansfield University in Pennsylvania and an M.F.A. from Pennsylvania State University. His work has been featured in numerous juried, group and solo exhibitions, including Mickelson Gallery in Washington D.C., William Penn Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Wally Findlay Galleries in New York City and Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Altoona and Johnstown.

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