Artist Peter Sheppard earns honor for magical,
imaginative compositions of Trinidad’s splendor
The Northern Range is sumptuous and nurturing as she cradles the western corner of the capital city. The rainy season shaped the Range into a palette of greens that is dusted with gold leaf by the afternoon sun. This isn’t a description of an imagined composition painted by Peter Sheppard—who’s known for condensing majestic scenes into miniature art—this is the view from his cozy patio perched on Fort George in Trinidad.
The eldest of three, Sheppard was born to be a painter. His parents, Stephen and Margaret, painted and encouraged their children to paint. “I remember Christmas and birthday gifts were usually three small canvases and a pack of paints.” He would cut the 5”x7” gift canvasses in half. Sheppard often toured Trinidad’s mountainous and coastal terrains. “My dad used to drive me around on the weekends, not just to Maracas, but long drives across Trinidad,” recounts Sheppard. The natural splendor of Trinidad he encounters is weaved into enchanting eco scenes that exist only in his mind. “The quaintness of this land appeals to me.”
In Form 4 he studied technical drawing. “I was doing building drawing rather than mechanical drawing; I was attracted to perspective, and box houses were one thing I used in my perspective practice.” Those simple houses helped him develop a comprehension of perspective and sense of depth, and they became as commonplace as rivers and bamboo in a Sheppard miniature. His paintings of box houses dressed in bright hues appealed to tourists. Seventeen-years-old at the time, Sheppard found a niche. Soon his 3”x4” paintings were fetching $35 at the Art Buyer’s Fair with the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.
In the Caribbean market, the value of fine art is influenced by exhibition sales, gallery curator’s appraisal, demand from collectors, and illustrious affiliations. Sheppard, 46, is yet to mount a solo exhibit beyond Trinidad’s shores, but last May he attained an honor that is a game changer. The Hilliard Society of Miniaturists in Wells, Somerset, is a 31-year-old fraternity of artists who paint miniatures; the society was founded by Sue Burton. Though Sheppard has been painting for 30 years, he says, “I discovered in the last 5 years, that miniatures are my signature.”
On his first attempt to get into Hilliard’s juried show, Sheppard’s work was rejected because the surface of his paintings was a distraction. “I paint on canvas paper and the pores of the canvas were a distraction for them,” explains Sheppard, “remember, they scrutinize miniatures under a magnifying glass.” The second year he submitted a monochromatic quartet from his “Blue” show—all four sold. “That was something that stood out,” says Sheppard. “It’s West Indian-themed but the way it was presented was contemporary—the work used cobalt blue paint.” In 2013 his submission was mounted on masonite board, a surface as smooth as a kitchen countertop. He lathered them in gold then applied his landscapes. As Sheppard describes: “I was painting with a smile on my face. I enjoyed painting the details with the gold luster underneath it, it’s really rich [work]. I sent them to London with such good energy.” Then he got a phone call with an unofficial announcement, that he is being awarded the Sue Burton Memorial Award for Best in Show. Jackpot! Sheppard’s third try, beat 80 competitors and earned him £1000 and coveted recognition.
What’s next? Possibly a show at the TT High Commission in London, and a collaboration that pairs his passion for food and lush landscapes with his fine art. “I love the miniatures, because it’s how I interpret nature, everything is delicate and precise and neat. When I get into a painting I go into a trance, it puts me at peace. The handling of the painting is very delicate, time consuming and very controlled. All the things I’m telling you are the complete opposite of my personality type.”
Isaiah Boodhoo and Carlisle Chang are artists Sheppard admires, but he credits the late Wayne Berkeley, who designed theatrical sets and costumes, with inspiring his technique. “You look at my paintings and there’s a backdrop, then wings coming in on the left and right,” describes Sheppard. “It’s always like I make paintings into a 3D stage set. I paint the background first and I start bringing the work forward.”
His largest work measured 2 meters x 5 meters and took six weeks to complete. “I just felt like pushing the edges of the canvas out. [Sometimes] I feel I want to express [nature] bigger. Everything is still meticulously placed in those big paintings, and I am still using a 000 brush.” It’s a painstaking process. Sheppard chuckles as he repeats a comment often heard: “Dat is mad people work.” But to his collectors, Peter Sheppard is madly in love with creating miniatures that reflect his fascination with “all things to do with the Northern Range.”
© SEAN DRAKES
[ 404.654.0859 | SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]