September 3, 2011 11:00:00 PM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
"You can''t look at eyes as eyes and just draw them," mused Renée Sheridan in her soft, sing-song cadence. "You can''t think, ''I know how eyes are -- they''re oval and have a circle in the middle.'' You look at eyes as light and dark. You''re always looking at where the light is meeting the dark ... and you draw what you see."
It''s often in the eyes this Columbus artist finds the essence of her subjects. Or in their movements, their memories, their voices. It''s important to the versatile painter to envelop an integral element of individual character in each painting. By spending time with her subjects, taking photographs, talking to loved ones, she mines something fundamental.
Two ready examples are portraits of her grandsons, 5-year-old Benjamin and 4-year-old James Berry of Starkville. The works rest side-by-side in Sheridan''s sunporch studio in the Lowndes County home where she and her husband, Greg, a simulator instructor at Columbus Air Force Base, live.
Benjamin''s portrait, a delicately-rendered black and white graphite likeness, is in marked contrast to a vivid acrylic painting of James striding purposefully down a beach. The boys'' personalities and qualities inspired their interpretations.
"Benjamin is so empathetic. He has these eyes that are almost Byron-esque, just very dreamy," the artist explained. "Now, James, he''s all-boy, he''s always on a mission."
Knowing whether a subject should be painted standing knee-deep in a lake, or with fingertips extended to a butterfly, looking down introspectively, or smiling broadly at the painter comes from simply "listening," the artist said, to who they are.
That attention to substance -- and Sheridan''s innate skill at capturing it on canvas -- extends beyond portraits. Her talents shine in landscapes, book illustrations, wildlife and pet paintings and whimsical art, as well. In pencil, acrylic, oils, watercolors and three-dimensional media. She recently even experimented with a solar screen panel, painting an iguana, a nod to the upcoming Tennessee Williams Tribute play, "The Night of the Iguana."
"I love art. I love every everything about it," the petite painter said, surrounded by the understated chi of a serene home drenched in hues of adobe, taupes and mossy greens. "Art collects people, you know," she smiled. "And I love learning new techniques so that when I see a face, or see a scene, or I have an idea, I have a wide selection I can draw from that I feel will say what I want to say best."
By her count, the Virginia-born Sheridan has lived in 22 homes in her lifetime, and raised two children along the way.
"But I think this will probably be the place we stay," she grinned. Once she put down roots in the Golden Triangle, it didn''t take long for the arts community to discover her ability. On Thursday, Sept. 8, the public is invited to a free reception at the Columbus Arts Council''s Rosenzweig Arts Center from 5:30-7 p.m. to open her first solo show.
Expect the unexpected. The eclectic mix will include about 60 works, ranging from portraits to curious possums and Columbus'' own Mother Goose (Edwina Williams), from furniture painted with wild turkeys to an interactive bamboo installation called a "visual musing."
Ralph Null, of the Columbus Arts Council Gallery Committee, remarked, "Renée is a true talent waiting to be discovered, and this is a rare opportunity for those of us here to see the extensive scope of her work and the incredible creativity that goes along with it."
A collection of paintings known as the gloaming series will also be in the show. Each depicts a majestically colored at sunset.
"All of those were done at our farm in Hamilton, Ala. I call it my wilderness studio," said Sheridan. "I love painting skies. I love expanse, anything that gives me the feeling of freedom. I''ll paint it because it lifts my spirits."
Rather than capturing sunsets on camera to paint later, Sheridan writes.
"I make all these notes about the shapes and colors, and that''s where my gloaming pictures come from. ... The sky is always different. After Hurricane Katrina, it was amazing. I''ve never seen another sky like that. The moon was buttery yellow, and it had a magenta-colored ring around it. It was such a beautiful night I wished I could fly through it," she shared, with an almost wondrous smile. "I painted myself into the picture, flying."
Talk turned to a powerful book Sheridan received from a friend. In "The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating," by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, the author contracted a virus that sent her to bed for months, barely able to roll over.
When a small wild snail hitch-hiked in on a floral delivery, Bailey became fascinated within in her own restricted world, watching the tiny creature for hours on end live its quiet life at a calming pace. The lesson touched Sheridan.
"I''m a really slow person; I go through life slowly. But, I get to see a lot," she said, eyes twinkling. "That''s sort of what I want. I want people to be able to take a moment and then ask, ''What do I have to say?'' ''What would I like to draw, or hear? ... I think it''s really about communication, and I hope to communicate to people how I feel about life."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.