Who is Stephen Sheffield?
The dry answer from my bio is this: Stephen Sheffield is a mid-career artist and a native of the Boston area. He is an alumnus of Cornell University, 1988, in Ithaca NY, where he obtained a BFA in painting and mixed media. He went on to receive his MFA in photography and mixed media from the California College of the Arts in Oakland CA, 1992, studying directly under and was assistant to Larry Sultan as well as studying under Jean Finley, Jim Goldberg and others including assisting artist Carrie Mae Weems. On the personal side, Stephen Sheffield lives south of Boston with two teenage boys and his wonderful and talented interior designer wife, Alison.
Cohasset, Massachusetts! You are so wonderful!?
After 20 years living in a loft studio on Boston Industrial waterfront, I met my wife and after 10 years raising our boys in the city, we decided to move a bit south, and we landed in the beautiful little seaside town of Cohasset Massachusetts. I am on the board of directors of our local art center where I also teach a little art. My wife’s design business is thriving and my boys are grinding through their teenage years, ha-ha. We are within a quarter mile of the ocean, and during the first year of Covid, one of my many “Covid projects” was to restore a vintage “runabout” motorboat. A small, open, wooden motor boat that seats 4 and was a perfect project to shake out our cabin fever during lock down.
If you are what you eat, what are you?
It is safe to say that I am an omnivore; I will literally eat anything at least once. My favorite foods however are breakfast foods. A big greasy American diner breakfast. I’m not saying they are the “best” or even good for you, but give me large plate with eggs, sausage, and pancakes and I am happy.
AC/DC or Metallica?
“It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll”
God’s away on business? (Tom Waits)
Poet, artist, philosopher, trickster and magician. I worship at the altar of Tom Waits. I have seen him play live many times and he is on my bucket list of people I would love to have a drink with.
Time wasted at a lake is time well spent?
My family has had a small bit of land on the shore of a remote lake in northwestern Maine since before I was born. A deep, cold lake tucked into the mountains. It is a place of great peace and inspiration for me, and many of my favorite photographs were taken there or inspired by my time there.
The concept of absurdity is something I am attracted to? (David Lynch)
David Lynch is on that list with Tom Waits! The world is an absurd place; “life” is an absurd concept. I try to find humor in everything even though it’s been tough since 2016 (US election). Humor and surreality are both important components of my creative work. If I cannot entertain myself with my art, how can I possibly entertain anyone else?
Creativity is a gift. It doesn’t come through if the air is cluttered? (John Lennon)
I could not agree more with that quote by John Lennon. I can be clever under pressure. I can make good design choices under pressure. But in order for me to be truly creative, I need to be able to stare at a wall for an hour (or a lake or a city skyline). Once my mind is quiet, the wonderful ideas pour in.
Black is not a color? (Édouard Manet)
This might sound funny, but at this point in my career, I see everything in black and white. Color is a challenge. Forcing myself to work with color is one of the reasons beginning to make analog collages a few years back was a welcome struggle. Black and white is important to me because it forces me to deal with the structure of what is seen in the viewfinder and also I believe it removes a layer(s) of reality from the photograph forcing or allowing the viewer to fill in the emotional information.
Would you take photos at a family member’s funeral?
I would and I have. It is Important to not be disruptive to others grieving in their own way, but photography for me is a way to honor/preserve what is in front of my lens.
Every exit is an entrance somewhere else?
Even the smallest amount of success in the art-world means that for every 10 tries 8 or 9 of them will end in rejection or sub-par work. But that ONE time is where things work out, you are able to move forward towards the next 10 tries.
What’s usually your last thought before falling asleep?
My days are pretty full, so it often takes a few hours to “cool down”, clear my head and concentrate, on my family or myself. If I think too much at bedtime it is impossible to sleep. I’ve taken lately to listening to guided meditation and it has done wonders.
“Rope” or “Rear Window”? (Alfred Hitchcock)
That’s a tough one!! “Rope” because of the technical brilliance of “the one shot movie” and of course the brilliant James Stewart. “Rear Window” because it’s a gorgeous and stressful puzzle. AND James Steward and Grace Kelly, wow!
Who are you tormenting if things don’t work?
Oh, that’s an easy one!! Myself. I don’t sit and fume or yell or anything, I stomp around and try to “work” the problem. Half the time I make it worse and need to start over the next day, and the other half of the time I say fuck-it and let my anger turn to action and something rises from the ashes that is different and better than my original intention.
What gives you butterflies?
In art making, I get butterflies when I am working on a photograph and everything syncs. When the process and my intentions flow in such a way as to be able to “feel” that the work is well seen/inspired/meaningful. I do not always need “flow” or “butterflies” for the work to be good, but it helps. As it turns out, this “flow” happens in tri-yearly cycles for me. Not intentionally, but looking back on my history, I can track it. If I look at the “graph”, I feel I just might have a time of “flow” coming just around the bend!
Your goal in life? To walk on water?
Ultimately my goal in life is to be happy and healthy and work hard for the ones I love to be happy and healthy too. My goal for my art practice is to continue to be excited by art making. The day I am unable to surprise and impress myself and enjoy the process of the good, the bad and the ugly, I will hang my hat.
_Uwe Buschmann (copy editing Silvia Strauch)