The Art of Professor Ben Shamback


Posted on January 19, 2017 by


The oil paintings of Professor Ben Shamack, Department of Visual Arts, have been included in more than 150 national and regional competitions throughout the United States. In addition, he has had 18 solo exhibitions in the past 14 years and has been featured in Manifest International Painting Annuals 1, 2, 4 and 5. He was awarded the Faber Birren Color Award in 2003 and the Gold Medal of Honor for Oil Painting from the Allied Artists of America in 2004 Vibrant color and surface complexity are hallmarks of Shamback’s still-life paintings. Another hallmark is his decision to paint solely on copper rather than on a canvas.

Indeed, unlike just about every painter in the U.S., he paints exclusively on copper, an approach he learned from studying a painting on copper by Baroque artist Artemesia Gentileschi while Shamback was living in St. Louis, Missouri, for his M.F.A. According to Shamback, “As far as I know there are only two of us in the world that are seriously working on copper (me and some guy in Italy). Lots of painters try copper out for a painting or two, but he and I are the only ones doing it all the time.” His paintings of flowers are in the realist mode, and he says the flora is “inherently beautiful” and provides “a good way to make the painting instantly accessible. They give [him] a platform to work within, or a peg to hang [his] painting on.” According to Shamback, “a painting only works well when it has visual tension.” He adds, “In paintings like mine, that tension is built through the constant comparison between the imagery and the abstraction that makes the image. After all, a painting is nothing but a bunch of different colors, shapes and paint strokes.

This is the classic dichotomy that exists in painting inherently: the painting as an object to be looked at (abstraction) and the painting as an object to be looked through (imagery/window). When these forces work off of each other properly, the painting is worth looking at.”The early twentieth-century illustrator and landscape painter Maxwell Parrish is Shamback’s favorite painter. According to Shamback, Parrish is recognized for “combining Renaissance drawing and craft with 20th century ideas about color and abstraction.”

Attending the Maxfield Parrish Retrospective exhibition in 1996 helped Shamback decide to become a painter. He lists the representational painting by eighteenth-century French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and his nineteenth-century countryman Henri Fantin-Latour as other significant influences. In his day, Chardin was attacked for his still life paintings, yet, he gets, in Shamback’s words, “the last laugh” because he has more works “in the Louvre Museum than any other artist.” Shamback hails Vermeer not because he was out of step with the dominant artistic paradigm of his age but, rather, because he was painting representationally on “an incredible level that almost everyone looks silly by comparison.” Shamback came to USA in 2001. He earned his M.F.A. from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1999, and he earned his B.A. in Illustration from Central Connecticut State University in 1996.


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