Artist Snapshot: Ronald Sherr

Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions.

Ronald Sherr interview
Ronald Sherr with Annie Leibovitz at his Stuyvestant Street studio

At what age did you decide to become an artist?

Truthfully, I can’t say I ever really “decided” to become an artist; it was sort of an accident. I was in college pretty much majoring in math, but I didn’t particularly care for the school. My Dad out of the blue said to me, “Why don’t you go to art school?” to which I responded, “Why in the world would I do that?” He reminded me that I liked to draw when I was four or five years old, and I just shook my head. It turned out he knew a young man around my age who was in a local art school and was raving about the experience. To make a long story short, I went to check out the school (to appease my Dad), and the next thing I knew I was all signed up. The director gave me a test (about twenty minutes to sketch a still life) and proceeded to tell me that art was my true calling in life and that his school was where I belonged. Looking back on it now, my guess is that the same story was told to anyone and everyone who could sign a check for tuition.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?

My mother didn’t seem to care one way or the other, while my Dad seemed pleased since he was the one who suggested I go to art school.

Who are your favorite artists?

Instead of naming favorite artists, it would be more accurate for me to say that I have many favorite works by various artists. They would fill the pages of this entire edition of Linea, however-

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?

Another tough question as there are many… Egon Schiele, Edwin Dickinson to name just two.

Art book you cannot live without?

Personally, I like to look at art… not read about it so many of my books are about the reproductions. I have quite a collection and one of my faves is a rare, out of print volume of works by Antonio Mancini that my wife bought for me in Milan many years ago. As for a good read, I love Pietro Annigoni’s autobiography.

What is the quality you most admire in an artist?

While there are those who seem gifted with an inherent, inexplicable talent (in any of the arts for that matter), it is usually hard work and a driving, serious commitment that brings out the best in any artist.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

No, and I never really have. Artists work in different ways though—

On the other hand, I have often made quick sketches/doodles on a paper napkin or anything within my reach when I felt the urge. I also tend to make many sketches from memory at a later time.

What’s your favorite museum in all the world?

I love them all.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?

I am an incurable Edwin Dickinson fan and have been so since I first saw a reproduction of one of his works back in 1972 (one of my teachers at the duCret School of Art in New Jersey introduced me to Dickinson’s work). When the exhibition of his work went up at the National Academy of Design in 1982, I simply couldn’t get enough of it.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?

I love music so… that might have been a possibility, but I also loved math, physics and science in general.

Did you have an artistic cohort that influenced your early creative development?

I remember when I was a student in Daniel Greene’s class at the National Academy of Design; there was a brilliant fellow student named Danny Baxter who had studied in Colorado with an artist named Alvin Gittens. I have many memories of watching him (DB) paint in class—his control of the brush was magical; in a single stroke and turn of a large brush (which always seemed to happen in slow motion) he could paint an absolutely perfect ellipse or circle—to me, his technique and ability to take risks and fearlessly tackle problems in his paintings (be it composition, form, color, etc.) was endlessly inspiring. Unfortunately, he passed away at a very young age and I never really saw anything he painted other than the amazing work he did in class.

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?

To work on my strengths, not my weaknesses.

What work of art have you looked at most and why?

I’ve always had a natural attraction to portraiture and figurative painting, so portraits by any of the greats (Velázquez, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Sargent, etc., etc.) absolutely take my breath away. As for a single piece, however, for me, a favorite usually comes and goes in waves… similar to having a favorite song but for only so long.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?

Images of the grand (i.e. planets, solar system, cosmos) and images of the very small (electron micrographs).

Do you listen to music in your studio?

Yes, or audio files so I can practice some Mandarin (which makes painting doubly hard).

What is the last gallery you visited?

I’ve been in Asia for over thirteen years now, and while I’ve been to myriad museums, temples, gardens, etc., I have not been to a “normal” art gallery for quite some time.

Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?

Actually, there are quite a few I can think of, but telling people to look at their work won’t necessarily help them to see what I see that makes them special to me. To each his own.

What art materials can you not live without?

Though I have particular brands of paint, brushes, palette knives, etc., that I prefer, I tend to think that if I really needed to produce a drawing with a stick and some mud, I would be able to do so.

Do you paint every day?


What is the longest time you went without creating art?

Several times I have gone many months without painting.

What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?

I do anything at all to “ease” myself back into painting (i.e. stretch canvas, prepare panels and paper, go through some old sketches, etc.).

What are the questions that drive your work?

I don’t ask… I just work and let it pull me along any way it likes.

What is the most important quality in an artist?

Need. A need to draw, a need to paint, a need to observe and obsess. I am clueless as to where it comes from and why some people have it and some don’t.

What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?

To paint a picture of my own that takes my breath away.

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?

I think the best part is the sharing of art from around the world. I am now familiar with many terrific artists that I otherwise would not know exist. On top of that, I frequently get to see what their influences are—kind of like owning an encyclopedia on the global history of art that updates every nanosecond.

Ronald Sherr taught at the Art Students League from 1990 to 2005. To see Sherr’s portraits, visit his website or Instagram @ronsherr

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