It was a profound experience meeting Michael Shepherd.
The renowned artist, whose career spans nearly five decades, is the artist in residence at Henderson House in Alexandra.
Despite his work having graced the walls of the nation’s most distinguished galleries and being held in major collections, Shepherd is an outlier in the art world – he shies away from the self-promotion that comes with being a career artist, and is content to spend hours on end in his studio delving deep into his work.
“I’m not one for the cult of the artist – I think the artists I admire the most are the artists we know the least about,” Shepherd said.
“If I looked at some, say people like Giorgio Morandi or Alberto Giacometti, those people who worked humbly in studios all their lives, did not crave limelight, and didn’t need that, whereas we’ve entered into an age of the artist – performers isn’t the right word it’s personality as indistinguishable [part] of the art.”
Moved “greatly” by the philosophy of history and art, Shepherd has an increasing awareness of his “responsibility” as an artist.
“As I get older I get more and more reluctant to show, in part because I think the consequences of art grow ethically, morally, spiritually. I think the ethics involved in it are more profound than a lot of artists realise, certainly young artists.”
His time at Henderson House has resulted in a “very profound shift” in his art and a suite of works that excite him in a new way.
“Arriving down here I saw the potential to do some, what I call nature-culture construct works that looked at philosophy, theology, and navy.”
“I come from a very set green and yellow ochre landscape, right, a very verdant green landscape. But without knowing and without fully realising I made a switch, a seamless transition to mauve, violet . . . the colours of lichen down here and iron oxide.
“Now these are colours I never use and to my surprise once I started with them – what I’m thinking as the colours of the ether – it triggered a set of philosophical paintings in me.
“So that has become deeply exciting to me and I simply get up each day and I can’t stop painting.
“I think there’s a lot I can do,” Shepherd said.
“I really had thought that perhaps in my 70s I was winding down but no.”
“I am so grateful for the [Henderson Arts] Trust – it’s been one of the most extraordinary painting times here.
“It [the residency] is unique in that it is aimed at older people seen to have achieved at a national level, because much goes the way of the younger people these days, so this is a rare honorarium to have for an older person.”
Shepherd’s residency at Henderson House concludes early November.