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Someone asked Pontormo, "Which is the greater art, painting or sculpture?" Pontormo replied, "Drawing.

Maybe that dialogue really took place, and maybe it did not. But it is a story you never forget if you love drawings. For Pontormo was saying something that every serious artist knows: drawing is the purest form of visual art.

The act of drawing is the artist's most direct, most intense, and most personal response to nature. The speed and simplicity of the drawing process reveals everything: how much the artist knows about nature and his craft; how decisively he can visualize what he sees or what he imagines; and how he really feels. Drawing is an utterly transparent art form. We feel closest to the artist in his drawings.

Looking at Joseph Sheppard's drawings, you know immediately that he is fascinated by anatomy — like the Renaissance and baroque masters who inspire him. Sheppard knows that to draw the human figure with authority, you must understand how the human body works. His drawings have such remarkable vitality and conviction because he knows the human body from inside out.

And like the masters from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, Sheppard is clearly schooled in the classical ideal of beauty. The forms and proportions of Greek art, rediscovered in the Renaissance, lend grace and logic to his drawings.

But the handsome drawings in this book are far more than the schematic renderings of the human figure that are too often produced by artists who work self-consciously in the Renaissance manner. (It is easy for any skilled draftsman to create a pastiche of classical forms and stop there.) For Sheppard, however, anatomy and classical canons of form are never ends in themselves; they are tools that help the artist to capture the unique character of the living form.

Sheppard does not simply draw an idealized classical figure — he draws a unique human body. He draws a specific person. His figures are handsome, of course, but their beauty is not achieved merely by imposing an abstract system of classical forms on the model. Above all, he finds beauty in the characteristic shape, stance, and gesture of that model.

Joseph Sheppard is fascinated by the specifics of the human body. Each drawing is an attempt to discover the qualities that make each human figure different from all others. His wonderfully relaxed, yet precise, line moves down the contours of the figure, searching for the exact curves and authentic detail of real bone and muscle. A stick of white chalk glides over the surface of the figure, tracing the exact movement of the light over the form. A drawing by Joseph Sheppard glows with a soft, inner light. The shapes have a swelling, resilient quality that makes the figure spring to light.

Joseph Sheppard's beautiful drawings reveal an artist who is passionate about the human figure, superbly trained in traditional craftsmanship, profoundly enriched by his study of the masters, yet always deeply rooted in realism.

Donald Holden
From Joseph Sheppard's book
Selected Works

Girl w/ Sheet


Emmett Kelly

Judy Garland

Rickshaw Man

Studies of an English Girl

Il Palio

Man Pulling

Third World Mother


Volley Ball

Volley Ball




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E-mail: JosephSSheppard@gmail.com