Photography is nature seen from the eyes outward, painting from the eyes inward.1
Charles Sheeler, 1938
The American modernist Charles Sheeler (1883–1965) explored the relationships between photography, film, and more traditional media such as painting and drawing with more rigor and intellectual discipline than perhaps any other artist of his generation. As in a well-conceived scientific experiment, Sheeler used his own photographs and film stills as the basis for paintings and drawings, thus crystallizing the differences and similarities between them. Works in one medium manage to function as independent objects while also being inextricably linked to works in other media.
During Sheeler's lifetime the essential role that photography played in his creative process was often criticized or obscured because the medium's legitimacy as an art form remained controversial. In 1931 Sheeler himself — wary of being accused of simply copying his photographs, and at the behest of his dealer, Edith Halpert — began downplaying their connections. Yet the complex dialogue Sheeler forged among various techniques early in the century is one of his most innovative and important contributions to the history of American modernism.
Organized chronologically and covering the major themes of Sheeler's career, Charles Sheeler: Across Media allows viewers to compare works of the same subject rendered in a variety of media. At first glance some of these works may seem identical, but closer inspection reveals their subtle and meaningful differences. In presenting these relationships, the broader pattern of Sheeler's artistic enterprise — what he once called "the whole cloth from which my work has been cut"2 — emerges.
1. Quoted in Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler, Artist in the American Tradition (New York, 1938), 119.
2. Charles Sheeler to Edith Halpert, June 9, 1956, Downtown Gallery Papers.