Michael Sheets – “20 North / 30 Years”

Michael Sheets
Toledo, Ohio

Michael Sheets (photo courtesy of the artist)

Artist Biography
Michael Sheets was trained in studio art and art education at The University of Toledo (Ohio), receiving Ed. and M.Ed. degrees. He has been an active and prolific painter for over three decades, with his works included in nearly 300 private, corporate and public collections throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, including ProMedica (Toledo, Ohio), Dana Corporation (Maumee, Ohio) Owens-Illinois (Perrysburg, Ohio), The University of Toledo, and Spiritmuseum (Stockholm, Sweden). His artwork is represented in galleries in New York City (New York), Los Angeles (California), Detroit (Michigan), Houston (Texas) and more. Since 1987, he has maintained a painting studio on Adams Street in downtown Toledo.

Identified by Louis K. Meisel in 1980 as a second-generation Photo-Realist, Sheets’ work has been written about and discussed by critics as prominent and varied as Donald Kuspit and John Arthur. As early as 1985, it drew the attention of curators such as Lisa Lyons, as well as Eleanor Heartney, then editor of the New Art Examiner.

“L S” oil on canvas by Michael Sheets

Sheets has enjoyed numerous solo and group exhibitions, both juried and invitational, nationally and internationally throughout his prolific career. Among the many institutions at which he has recently exhibited are the Skidmore Contemporary Art Gallery (Santa Monica, California) in 2021 and Gifts of Art at the University of Michigan Medical Center (Ann Arbor) in 2015. Additionally, he has exhibited in multiple installations of annual shows such as the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, Toledo Museum of Art (Ohio) (Third Award 1985 and 2000, Canaday Award 1996 and 2008, First Award 2004, Israel Abramofsky Award 2005); National Painting Show, Washington & Jefferson College (Pennsylvania) (Juror’s Award 1995, Grumbacher Gold Medal 1997); National Midyear Exhibition, The Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, Ohio) (Allied Artists of America Award 2005).

"Absolut Ohio" by Michael Sheets, published in USA Today, May 27, 1993
“Absolut Ohio” by Michael Sheets, “Absolute Statehood” campaign ad, published in “USA Today,” May 27, 1993

Among his notable media appearances have been articles about his paintings that were published in American Artist Magazine in 1982 and 2003 and the inclusion of his work in New American Painting in 1999. In the early 1990s, Absolut Statehood, an advertising campaign for Absolut Vodka, featured one of Sheets’ popular Stones Series paintings. Sheets’ painting of the iconic Absolut bottle rendered as an etched river stone, Absolut Ohio, was published in both USA Today newspapers and Time Magazine and has also been included in histories of that well-known ad campaign. 20 North Gallery’s May 1993 inaugural exhibit, Michael Sheets: The Absolute Beginning, celebrated his Stone Series as well as his win as Ohio’s selected artist for the Absolut Statehood campaign, with the featured painting, Absolut Ohio, unveiled at the opening reception, the same day this painting was published in USA Today. The canvas would go on to exhibit nationally in New York, before entering the permanent collection of Spiritmuseum (Stockholm, Sweden), a museum of Swedish heritage, which houses the Absolute Art collection, now managed by the Swedish government.

In addition to 20 North Gallery’s very first exhibit, Sheets has had work featured in many of the gallery’s shows, including Tenth Year Exhibit (2003), Gallery Artists Group (2005), 20 North / 20 Years (2012) and Luminosity (2017). His painting MRH (Portrait of Rose) is of the mother of gallery owner Eric Hillenbrand, the late Rose Hillenbrand, who served as hostess at 20 North Gallery receptions from its founding until her death in 2019.

To learn more about Michael Sheets’ artistic career and professional history, visit his website at michaelsheetsartworks.com.

Artist Statement
Recording the effects of light is the essential aim and unifying theme of my work. The creation of visual illusions sometimes called mimesis, as well as an awareness of a painting as an abstract formalist construct, round out my major concerns. Although I paint a varied group of subjects, a “tight” realism is typical of all my work. I feel that an interest in subject and narrative elements does not preclude concurrent attention to the abstract aspects inherent in composition in a two-dimensional picture plane.

“R H” oil on canvas by Michael Sheets

The paintings are built from multiple layers of thinned oil paints applied to medium texture cotton canvas. I generally begin with a toned ground and establish highlight and shadow areas before applying color. This roughly approximates the traditional technique known as “imprimatura.”

I make few drawings in preparation for my paintings. Generally, I shoot many photographs of subjects I am considering for paintings. These photos serve as my references during the process of translating an idea to canvas. Rather than a single photo, most paintings draw from multiple source photographs. Often these are composited on the computer. I modify the color and lighting freely but do rely on the photo for information on textures and fine details.

To summarize, while aware of formalist aspects involved in the design of a painting, I do not feel such awareness precludes the use of narrative elements. I believe that paintings at their best should be complex, multi-layered constructions that do not reveal all their secrets at first glance.

Michael Sheets’ previous 20 North Gallery exhibits:

For purchase inquiries, please contact 20 North Gallery:
419-241-2400  or  info@20northgallery.com