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Talking to Rudy Shepherd

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

This past week, we interviewed Rudy Shepherd from his NY home on The Large Glass.

As I wrote in the weekly newsletter, there's a lot about Shepherd's work that I admire. His stylized portraits are reminiscent of Alice Neel's likenesses, and their painted gazes pull you in with a sense of innocence. People in the public eye become his muses, and his cast of subjects includes a long list of recognizable political figures, world leaders, distinguished artists, writers, actors, athletes and so forth. He doesn't shy away from heavy topics, and his figures often greet viewers with head-on looks, creating an empathetic appeal that may not exist through the veil of attached prejudices and media narratives. Aside from images of victims who were injured or killed through methods attributed to systemic racial injustice, Shepherd does not stray far from also portraying people convicted of crimes linked to hatred or stereotypes.

All people that Shepherd is inspired to paint, the good and bad, are presented in the same engaging way that allows the viewer to look beyond their sensationalized notoriety.

Although I want to say some of the images are jarring, the ingenuous qualities keep me connected and curious while tugging at my heartstrings. These observations and feelings translate when viewing his performance pieces as well. An example of this could be seen in his 2002 rendition of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" in which a younger Rudy Shepherd, filmed from the shoulders up, presents himself with bared skin as he sings the popular Beach Boys song while looking directly at the camera lens. As he tries to stay in key, it becomes apparent that there is an ideal portrayed in the lyrics that is not accessible to all people. Privilege, denial, and ignorance are so beautifully captured, accentuated by the discordant high-notes and haunting, echoing sounds of children playing somewhere nearby. Shepherd captures the humanity both in his rendering, his performance pieces, and the physical representation of the human expression.

In an article that appeared in RVA Magazine in 2017, Shepherd was quoted as saying the following:

“I am interested in people reexamining the stories of these people they heard about in the news and with a bit more empathy than maybe they did the first time it was presented to them,” Shepherd said. “To have a viewer walking away with a feeling of compassion for these people and to have that compassion be extended to the people they come in contact to in the real world would also be amazing.”

*Rudy Shepherd joined us on The Large Glass on Tuesday, January 4th, 2022.

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