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Charles Sheeler

American Painter and Photographer

Charles Sheeler Photo

Born: July 16, 1883 - Philadelphia, PA

Died: May 7, 1965 - Dobbs Ferry, NY

"Every age manifests itself by some external evidence. In a period such as ours when only a comparatively few individuals seem to be given to religion, some form other than the Gothic cathedral must be found."

Charles Sheeler Signature

Summary of Charles Sheeler

Famous for both his photographs and the paintings he often made from them, Sheeler was an influential American artist for most of the first half of the 20th century. Sheeler used both photography and painting, which he referred to as his 'separate eyes,' to capture the function, abstraction, and the human element of the American industrial and urban age. Sheeler found and captured the beauty of the functional design of factories, barns, and skyscrapers, but also the allure of the inherent geometric abstraction of these structures. He was considered one of the artists most in tune with the modernization and industrialization of America, as his work revealed how the American pioneer spirit had transferred from exploring natural frontiers to the technological and industrial progress of the nation.

Key Ideas

Sheeler objectively captured the geometry, form and abstraction of the buildings, structures, machinery, and architecture which were transforming and modernizing America, inaugurating the Precisionist Movement.
Sheeler had a remarkable process of mixed media creation. He began by taking a photograph of an object or building, then crafted a drawing based on the original photograph, and then used the drawing as a model for a painting. He believed the process showed that the less mechanical the media became the more involved the artist was in creating the beauty of the work. The complex dialogue he created between media and object was one of his major contributions to American modernism.
Sheeler was truly inter-disciplinary in his work. He created a movie, finding influence in the interaction of the film and the object. He was also influenced by, and influenced poets, as he based the shots of his film Walt Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry (1856), and worked closely with William Carlos Williams to theorize the various fields and media of modernism.
One of Sheeler's major achievements was redefining the concept of the American landscape. Sheeler replaced pastoral images of a pristine nature with a terrain populated by factories and industrial yards, and revealed the beauty of urban spaces and cityscapes.
In his later years, Sheeler worked on incorporating multiple perspective in his images, by creating a technique of overlapping photographic negatives to create an image that served as a model for a painting.
Charles Sheeler Photo

Charles Rettrew Sheeler Jr was born into a middle-class family in Philadelphia, and was named after his father who worked for a steamship company. He attended a local high school, and his parents encouraged his interest in art from an early age.

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