Grand re-opening, artist talk at Michael Good

Shipko shares her ‘Sweet Revenge’

By Dagney C. Ernest | Jul 05, 2017
"I sell a lot of chocolate cake,” said artist Beverly Shipko. Pictured is her oil painting “Last Piece.”

Rockport — Those in the sweet-tooth know head to the Pascal Avenue curve of Route 1 when they desire a sweet indulgence, but through Aug. 1, there is a second helping in the Sweet Sensations neighborhood.

The newly revamped Michael Good Gallery at 325 Commercial St./Route 1 opened “You can have your cake and eat it, too!” last month and will host a talk by artist Beverly Shipko, whose paintings and prints fill much of the gallery, Sunday, July 9, from 10 a.m. to noon. The talk follows a grand re-opening reception Saturday, July 8, from noon to 5 p.m. The festive afternoon includes live jazz, complementary drinks, decadent desserts and treats inspired by Shipko’s work.

The title of the artist’s Sunday talk hints at what has inspired her good 18 years of painting sweets, often in a somewhat-eaten state: “Sweet Revenge of the Dentists’ Daughter — How a daughter deprived of candy, cookies and ice cream used a paintbrush to taste them all.”

The talk is forcing her to do a lot of self-examination, Shipko said last month, “but 'forcing' isn’t really the right word.”

“It’s doing something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, which is just let myself think about it, instead of doing the work and rushing to paint and get into shows and, you know, market my art,” she said.

Some spontaneous marketing was happening June 2: a painting she’d done of a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and a couple of frosted dunkers had been posted on the company’s Instagram feed for National Doughnut Day, and Shipko’s own @beverlyshipko got a big bump in followers as a result. It’s not the only impact the digital revolution has had on her career.

“You know, they talk about, in the 19th century, that woodblock prints influenced the Impressionists, and the dissemination of magazines; for me, it’s the digital camera and, I think, also social media and the internet,” she said.

Because Shipko’s subject is food, and how we eat it, the moments she strives to capture are very fleeting. She uses a camera to document what she sees, even when painting something in the studio, and that used to mean waiting a couple of weeks for prints that might or might not have captured the details that inspired her.

“So then I switched over to Polaroids, so you can see the image. But when you’re out, you’re not carrying a Polaroid, remember how bulky those were? … With digital, you can see exactly what you’re getting, you know you have the image you’re looking for,” she said.

A painting in the show of a melting ice cream novelty on a stick is from the pre-digital camera days.

“I used a lot of film on that one! Click-click-click and just hope that something works. Now it’s completely different,” she said.

Her painting is different, too, because the newer technology enables her to dive down into her subjects, and she finds she is painting in closer views than in the past.

“Because of digital, I have more time and I’ve gone back to more realism … I’m able to see things that I wasn’t able to see before. It made a significant impact on my work,” she said.

Shipko said she thinks the change is for the better, and yet there is something about her previous techniques that still engages her. She said she still works that way once in a while.

“You’re forced to paint really fast, you only have 10 or 15 minutes to capture the image. So the paint would be much thicker and built-up and maybe rougher, if you will, but some of those older images have charm to them,” she said.

Shipko, who lives in Ardsley, N.Y., has a rather charming way to find her subjects: she holds an annual open studio and invites the neighborhood children, and anyone she knows with kids and grandchildren, to come in and take bites of cakes and ice cream and, a favorite subject, Oreo cookies. The latter often figure in contests that result in paintings she names for the young participants.

“It achieves a lot of objectives. Because you get original creations and configurations that you wouldn’t necessarily get … and at the same time, I’m not eating them all,” she said.

People are curious to meet her, she has learned, because they wonder what someone who paints such luscious images of ravaged pastries looks like. She is, in fact, a thin woman … but that wasn’t the case after she first met her muse. If she were painting a cake and wanted to do an image of a piece taken out, she would cut herself a piece and eat it.

“I put on, you know, 30-plus pounds doing that and no end in sight,” she said. “So I had to take myself in hand, which also I’ll talk about.”

She said she’ll also talk about her family, as the title implies, and a little bit about how she grew up.

“The family effect is huge, because we have a lot of professionals in our family,” she said, adding that her family loves food and participates a lot in her work.

She may bring some of the Polaroids Sunday … and she’ll definitely have her digital camera in hand (as will her daughter and husband), “because you know they’re going to have desserts there, so I’ll have my camera with me for new material.”

Indeed, Shipko is known for whipping out her camera at restaurants and social functions and snapping photos of partially eaten food on plates.

“The plates, they’re unedited versions of what people eat and how they eat. And some of my best paintings have been when we’re just casually eating or at a party,” she said. “You see something and you take that photo and it has a spontaneous quality about it and it just works.”

Shipko uses a variety of sources in addition to those initial photos. In the case of a recent blueberry cheesecake painting, she felt the image she had didn’t quite capture the “spirit” of the fruit.

“So I went to the store, bought a bunch of blueberries and took photos of it. And then I just went on the internet to see what people took photos of, you know, what was the essence of a blueberry,” she said.

The artist did a number of blueberry treat paintings expressly for the Michael Good Gallery show, in honor of Maine’s state fruit, and many with strawberries, as well.

“They’re sweets, but they’re healthier images, which fits my image of Maine – people who like to be in the outdoors,” she said.

Her first show in Maine — perhaps her largest show anywhere, she said — came about serendipitously. She has known PicassoWhat’s Jeff Wolff and Lori Schafer for many years and stopped in to see them at both the former downtown Rockland Michael Good Gallery and the Rockport annex, which has became the current showplace, last summer when she and her husband were visiting the state.

“I loved the space, loved the work. And I was on my way out and I gave Jeff and Lori some postcards and said, 'Oh, this is what I’ve been doing' … and it turned into a show,” she said. “It was very casual; sometimes the best things happen when you’re not looking for them.”

The PicassoWhat team co-curated Shipko’s show with gallery manager Avi Good. Shipko’s paintings are grouped by theme, including a vending series with paintings of candy (and a broccoli stalk interloper) behind glass in vending machines. One painting in the show represents another source of inspiration: photos given to the artist. The portrait of rows of macaron cookies at the DelRey pastry and chocolate shop in Antwerp, The Netherlands, was shot by someone else.

“I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do that, so it opens up new worlds,” Shipko said. “There’s usually a story behind almost anything I do.”

Visitors will hear some of the stories Sunday morning, and there are plenty to peruse on the Bites of Life blog at beverlyshipko.com. Shipko said she’s never been one for writing in journals but because blogs contain images, she finds the form ideal for documenting what she was thinking at the time she was working on a particular paintings, as well as exploring her process … and keeping track of her work.

“I used to take photos of my paintings and put them in an album; now, they’re right at your fingertips,” she said.

While visiting the Midcoast — the date of the grand re-opening coincides with their 38th wedding anniversary — Shipko and her husband plan to return to Primo, and treat their daughter to a meal at Rockland’s James Beard award-winning restaurant. She said she took pictures last year of every dish they ordered, “because they were beautifully presented,” but the images were too dark to pursue. Still, she has done some savory subjects, including sushi plates; and a lobster, viewed from the outside as it attempts to crawl up the wall of a glass tank. The sushi works are part of a challenge she documents on her website, “doing small paintings faster.”

“I branched out to a little cheese, too, so it’s slowly happening … but somehow I gravitate back to the desserts. I think my heart’s always with the sweets,” she said.

Nostalgia is part of the appeal, both for the artist and the public. Shipko said the images evoke a time when an occasional sweet was a highlight, when life was simpler — or at least less crammed with distractions and outlets.

“You had playing outside and you had a little bit of TV and you read a book and you ate! And so it brings back childhood memories, I think; that’s a part of it, for everyone,” she said.

One woman in New York, for example, bought a painting of a Mallomar because it had been her mother’s favorite. A man in California bought a painting of a Hostess CupCake with a bite taken out of it on a similar impulse and wrote the artist an email about it.

“It reminded him of all the days when he would come home from school and his mother gave him a glass of milk and had the twin-pack ready for him, two Hostess CupCakes on a plate. He said to me, I knew as soon as I saw it, that was the painting for me,” Shipko said.

She said she was looking forward to seeing the show, which has been on view at Michael Good Gallery since June 12.

“I think it’s going to be a very rich-looking show and it has a fair amount of diversity. The new space looks absolutely beautiful,” she said.

She’s also looking forward to the Sunday talk, calling it a luxury to be given the opportunity to “just think about the work.” Although she likely will be working both days in some respect.

“You’ll see me there with my camera,” she said. “Maybe I’ll be back next year with those paintings!”

Summer hours at the Michael Good Gallery are Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit michaelgood.com.

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