Rudy Shepherd Creative Process Statement

Over the past 10 years I have been making work that explores the nature of evil through the mediums of painting and sculpture. This exploration involves investigations into the lives of criminals and victims of crime. I am exploring the complexity of these stories and the grey areas between innocence and guilt in a series of paintings and drawings of both the criminals and the victims, making no visual distinctions between the two. By presenting the people first and the stories second a space is created for humanity to be reinstilled into the lives of people who have been reduced to mere headlines by the popular press.

Going along with these portraits is a series of sculptures called the Black Rock Negative Energy Absorbers.  These sculptures are meant to be a counterpoint to what can seem like a vast, unsolvable problem.  They pose a solution, while at the same time questioning the viewer’s belief in the power of art, and the power of belief.  These have taken the form of a large outdoor public sculpture at Socrates Sculpture Park in 2006, human scale works in 2008, and small-scale ceramic sculptures called Healing Devices.

The Healer Project, a video first shown in my solo exhibition at Mixed Greens Gallery in 2012, continued this line of inquiry by creating a fictional world in which magic is real and people are changed by the healing powers of a mystical being. The Healer, an outgrowth of the Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber sculptures, moves through the world in a state of detachment; he is an invisible man. Much like the Bear character in my previous 2005 video project, The Healer both leads us to contemplate intermediate spaces—those between binaries such as “good” and “evil”—and serves as a self-portrait in which to explore feelings of social and political frustration, isolation, and impotence.

The Holy Mountain project continues this exploration while also investigating the “holy mountain” archetype. In many parts of the world, so-called holy mountains serve as symbols of humankind’s journey toward a heightened form of spiritual awareness. This project is inspired by the final chapter of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain and first began two years ago with a series of paintings of holy mountains from all over the world. It has continued to include traveling to these sites and filming my character the Healer exploring and drawing power from these sacred places. So far I have gone to Devils Tower (Bears Lodge) in Wyoming, the Black Hills of South Dakota as well as Mount Shasta in California

In addition to this I have been working on a series of paintings that draw heavily on photos from news sources and seek both to present the events captured by them in a more nuanced, complex way and to grant these otherwise disposable images a newfound permanence in our collective consciousness. Examples include a limosine set ablaze by the Black Bloc during the inauguration of Donald Trump, a car smashing into a crowd of protesters in Charlottlesvilles, VA and Alan Kurdi found dead on the shores of Greece.

In the media, and oftentimes in our society, we make efforts to articulate clear lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, between the good and the bad. As a result, individual people are made into moral or ethical examples, but at what cost?  Is the oversimplification of issues and the divisiveness we see in the reportage of the news making it more difficult to understand and empathize with one another?  My most recent work is an exploration of these questions, which I engage through an ongoing dialogue with news as it unfolds.

–Rudy Shepherd