An Interview with David Shevlino

David Shevlino
Blue Sky and Figure, oil on panel 19 x 17 2012

David Shevlino's paintings are gorgeously alive, his color and brushwork vigorously beautiful. Loosely painted, he mixes blurred forms with selected precisions to great effect, with the sense of the structure of his subjects always strong. You could argue that striving after beauty is a valuable enough pursuit, but David’s work also has strong emotional appeal. His figures in motion don't seem to evoke a single, quick click of the camera shutter, but instead seem contemplatively paused in mid-flight.

You can find out more about David at his website, his blog,  and his Facebook page. He offers  painting classes and workshops around the country, and has created 3 DVDs about his painting methods. You can view some of his demonstrations at his YouTube channel.

TD: David, you grew up in a working class family in Jersey City, NJ, without much exposure to the arts- yet by age 15 you were spending time on your own at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Directly after high school you enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and after receiving your certificate in painting you continued your studies at the Art Student’s League. What was your family’s reaction to all this?

DS: My family was surprisingly supportive of my decision to attend art school at the age of 17, despite the fact that they had no connection whatsoever to the arts. As I look back, I realize that things could have been much different. I’ve heard sad stories of people whose parents would not allow them to follow the path they wanted for themselves. 

Orchids, oil on panel, 14 by 12, 2011

TD: Which teachers did you learn the most from?

DS: Oddly, at PAFA I spent a lot of time just working on my own without much interaction with the faculty. I don't have a good explanation for why that was. Probably because I was so young.  For that reason I can't really say I learned much from the instructors. However, there were a couple who made an impression on me…such as Arthur DeCosta and Oliver Grimley

TD: Your work simplifies form very intelligently. By this I mean that you emphasize what is most important yet the sense of structure remains strong.  You sometimes make it look easy, but I know this comes from years of hard work. Do you think beginning students can or should be trained to simplify, or is carefully detailed work a necessary rite of passage?

DS: I started by doing very carefully rendered drawings when I was in my teens. That was reinforced at art school by doing a lot of cast drawing. My paintings were also highly rendered earlier in my career. That early foundation of academic drawing very much informs what I’m doing now.  It’s hard for me to imagine painting the way I do without having had that.

Figure on Gray, 16 x 15 1997

Rebecca Seated, 19 x 17, 2010

TD: I have watched you paint in some of your videos available on YouTube, and am amazed that even after spending a few days on a painting you don’t mind letting paint drip right across a figure. In being open to happy accidents, are there ever any bad ones?

DS: It’s actually very unnerving to do things like that on a painting because you don’t know quite what will happen. At the same time it’s what keeps things exciting.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of bad accidents. I guess I keep doing it in the hopes that I’ll see something good happen.

Adam, 23 x 20

TD: You paint with energetic and decisive brush strokes. Do you ever find yourself tightening up, and if so, how to you talk yourself back into working loosely?

DS: Yes, sometimes I do tighten up. I have a tendency to over paint as a way of maintaining control.  I have to make a conscious effort to avoid doing that. To get the results I want, it requires letting go of some control. Sometimes, if I do find myself becoming too tight I may have to repaint a section.

TD: What is your favorite brush?

DS: The brushes I've been using are made by Princeton, Silver Brush and Rosemary. I mostly use flats and filberts. I like flats because you can load them up and apply nice, clean patches of paint.  You can also get a crisp edge. Filberts are good for blending a transition. I use them both interchangeably. Lately, I’ve also started using plastic scrapers to move paint around.

TD: As your brushwork has become looser, more suggestive, has your sense of color changed?

DS: I think my color began changing before my brushwork. It has become brighter and more saturated.

Blue Vase and Flower, 10 x 9

Bowing Sumos, 24 by 29

TD: Your female nudes may be painted loosely but never seem to be a vehicle for showing off your technique- the human presence is always strong. In fact, your work has a strong emotional quality that can only come from inspiration. What do you do to get and remain inspired?

DS: The subjects which inspire me are those which make good vehicles for my painting style. I love the figure because there is so much you can do with flesh tones and paint surface. During the past year or so I’ve been intrigued by images of the figure in motion, which make a great subject when you’re using a loose/abstract paint application.  Remaining inspired is sometimes a problem for me.  I haven’t yet figured out how to control that.

 Diving, 12 by 17

Rachael , 14 x 12

TD: The last few years has seen an increase in your teaching load. Has this affected your painting? Do you like having the opportunity to travel?

DS: I wouldn’t say that teaching has affected my painting, but my painting has affected my teaching. I’ve enjoyed doing workshops because I make my own schedule and the travel is fun.

Pedestrians, 8 x 10

Rainy Street, 17 x 18

TD: Your work uses blurred edges combined with precision to great effect. Do you think your work is influenced by photography?  

DS: Yes, photography has influenced my work.  It has allowed me to paint subjects which otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  Specifically, the camera’s ability to capture movement has had a big impact on my work.

Two Figures Fighting15 x16

TD: Please name a few of your favorite painters and explain why you like their work.

DS: I've always loved the 16th century, Rembrandt and Vermeer in particular.  Since I was about 15  I was fascinated by how well they knew their craft.  As far as contemporary artists, I gravitate toward those who also know their craft, but who have a sense of uniqueness and speak in a contemporary voice.

TD: You are also a musician- a drummer. Do you listen to music while you paint? What is your favorite music?

DS: Yes, I often listen to music while painting.  I’ve always loved music and have wanted to play since I was a kid.  I mostly listen to jazz and classical.

Thanks David!

David was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and at the University of Pennsylvania. He has exhibited his work nationally.

You can find out more about David at his website, his blog,  and his Facebook page. He offers  painting classes and workshops around the country, and has created 3 DVDs about his painting methods. You can view some of his demonstrations at his YouTube channel.


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