By HANNAH HATCH
I met artists Tim and Susan Sharman recently, at their beautiful art-filled home built in 1916.
The two compiled a huge collection of their work, other works they admired and a library of books. I came to the realization that these inspirational artists were my neighbors and was very impressed with their work.
You can see the evidence that they have been making art for a long time. Tim was raised in Martinez and went to Alhambra High School. They both met each other in college during their time spent at California College of the Arts (CCA) in Oakland. Tim, at the time, was getting his Master’s degree in painting and Susan was getting her degree in print making. After graduating, their art skills lived on together under one roof. Tim kept himself busy with an abundance of jobs, including working in art stores, construction, and teaching at CCA. Susan went to work as a graphic designer in the wine industry. Her job consisted of typographical work – creating wine menus for restaurants, winery labels, point of sale, marketing and collateral. In 1993, Susan became self-employed. She started her own business and has been working hard at it ever since.
“We were living in Georgia and I really wanted to come back to the west coast,” Susan said. “I came back out here to go to art school. That was when in graphic design, there were no computers. Everything was hand done and hand lettered. A huge focus of mine, after art school, was ‘What can I do that I’m good at and can get a job in?’ I am a really pragmatic person. I need a job and I need to work. I graduated with a printmaking degree so it was a natural segue for me to go into graphic design. I’ve always stayed creative. Design is creative and also running a business is creative. You have to learn how to do lots of different things creatively.
“Over the years my graphic design work has really informed my artwork. The last 15-16 years, I have worked with needle crafts. I draw with a needle and thread. So for us there is earning a living, and there is making art. For me, it’s really intertwined because were doing it under one roof. Tim and I are working together and seeing each other’s art, and he always has great suggestions and ideas.”
Tim has been an artist ever since he was a young boy. He is a guru in painting and creating humor along with his pieces. Currently, Tim’s focus is considered “Folk Pop,” or a mixture of pop art from the ‘90s and American culture. Tim focuses most of his folk pop art on symbols based off of childhood memories, such as the Jolly Green Giant and Tootsie Rolls. If Tim is famous for anything, it would be his creation of “The Doof.” The Doof Museum was a 10-15 year project of Tim’s. He made many pieces in The Doof collection and inherited work from other artist contributions. In 2005, the collection was shown at the Diablo Valley College gallery, with hundreds of pieces.
“I create what defined me as a young man; which was all of these foods and different products,” Tim said. “So I am making the products that I remember from being a kid. I copy packages in paint, on real raw materials and house paint. I also tend to do a lot of different styles and I like a lot of humor in my art. I had created this cartoon character, named The Doof, which was a mixture of old animation from the 1920s, when everybody used to look alike and the figures were very simple. I took this character and created a history for him, and then I created a culture where artists were inspired by this Doof. They created their own artwork of The Doof, and then I collected everything. I made things from the ‘30s, ‘40s, pre-Columbian, photographs. That only scratches the surface. There’s hundreds of stuff.”
In the Sharman’s backyard, Tim has a garage made out of old redwood scavenged from his family’s old houses. Tim showed me his chisels that he uses to make wooden sculptures and the endless collection of art that is on the walls of the garage. Tim’s creative mind seems to have an endless spark of new piece ideas and projects.
“All the wood on this wall is stuff from my father, grandfather and great-grandfather’s house. It’s a big self portrait wall. Every piece of wood is taken from somewhere. A collage of my history,” Tim said.
“My father, working in construction, was always making things. I work a lot. I get it from my father’s work ethic. I was always drawing. I remember making collages in first grade. I got a drawing set and an acrylic set when I was 11. I tried painting and then got private lessons with this lady on weekend mornings. We worked together until I was 16. Her and I kind of worked together. All of the way I do things is based on the way we used to do art together. She was 70 years old, a beautiful painter. She had all adults in her house and I was this little kid. She painted in oil, so she learned acrylics and we worked and learned together. I’ve always been doing things, and doing things on my own. I taught myself, but also from school learned how to talk about art, and how to look at other artist’s art.
“I am kind of all over the place. You’re supposed to focus on something. I grew up in TV land, so I can go from this to that. I use all art as my inspiration. There’s always something based in art history, but also pop culture and my childhood. Everything is a self portrait. Just like Susan, everything she makes is a self portrait.”
Susan has a sewing room studio, where she has been working on two main projects.
She mixes old lace and doilies with embroidered words for a literary series and has a genealogy series using old photographs of her relatives. Susan is inspired by her garden and nature. She also loves reading, and they have an endless art collection in her sewing room. After some time spent away, she decided to get back into her personal art after an amazing show at the Bedford Gallery in 1999 that opened her eyes to new ideas. The curator put together a show of all people working in traditional needlecraft.
“I try to combine the things that I love,” Susan said. “A lot of the photography I have, I’ve inherited from my mom’s side of the family. There are photos going back generation after generation. I don’t really know their stories. I know their names, birthdates and a little bit about them. So, I kind of have conversations with them in my head when I’m working on the compositions. I have a fascination with the old handcrafted linens and doilies. There’s such incredible detail and work on that; I love that and the tactile quality of working with the fabric and thread. Part of the fun is finding the doilies.
“Gardening is a huge creative outlet. And its a palette. The colors and textures and shapes. I’m constantly thinking about that as well.
“My mom taught me to sew. She was a great seamstress and taught me to do needlepoint as a kid. My sister is a really good hat maker who’s been in the fashion industry and learned from my mother too. You know, I embroidered my blue jeans and sewed a little bit, but put it to the side until the 1999 show inspired me. I want to explore a medium, and for me I never really know where I am going to end up. A lot of my work, I work digitally, which comes from the graphic design, using Photoshop to create a visual. Then it is a very slow process. I take my time when I stitch. It is very meditative and zen. It feels good.”
“A real reason to become an artist is to just get into the zone,” Tim said.
The couple creates their art at their home and then focuses on selling their art directly. With the rise of the Internet, the two are seeing a mind shift. There may be a perception to some that the only way you can buy art is going into a gallery and having that experience. The couple disagrees, saying that nowadays it has become easier if you have a business with which you can connect directly with the people that want to buy and look at art. However, they have both shown in art shows and will continue to do so. Tim said he has been busy showing for over 25 years. They’ve also been a part of a gallery space in Oakland.
“You know in art school we were trained that our art had to go on a wall of a gallery,” Tim said.
“And we’ve been on the other side,” Susan added. “For about 3 1/2 years we were part of a non-profit gallery space in Oakland. It was part of the whole Oakland Art Murmur and First Fridays. Tim was on the Board of Installation and Design, and for shows I was the manager. It was fabulous. We got to curate shows, find other artists and put them up. We really realized that vision. There was funding and support. It was interesting to be on that other side of the desk and see artists coming in who desperately want to show their work. You sort of start to look at this concept of the ‘implied power’ that the gallerist has over the artist.”
“When running a gallery, you hold the key to the artists happiness,” Tim said. “We got to see a little bit of the other side.”
“We were excited to hear of the art walks starting in Martinez. We went a couple weeks ago to see Howard Finster,” Susan said.
Tim has a couple of pieces included in the group exhibit at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, “Safe At Home: A Short Survey of Baseball Art.” The opening reception takes place from 3-5 p.m. April 3. The exhibit runs through June 12. (Info at http://www.bedfordgallery.org.)
Both are included in the “Paper” exhibit, curated by Inez Storer at Toby’s Feed Barn Art Gallery, 11250 Route One, Point Reyes Station. It opens 1-4 p.m. April 30 and goes through May 30.
Susan will have a solo exhibit in September at the Benicia Public Library Art Gallery.