Joel Sheesley’s work embodies an ethic of love for his domestic and local environment. Each painting is a world seen through the eyes of a devoted lover. Sheesley says in an interview with James Romaine, “I’ve recently started to think that maybe all of my work for the last 20 years has been a kind of geographical study, that is a study of a locale, an environment, a place and a person in that place.” In that same interview he says, “my work is about trying to wrestle whatever kind of significance, beyond the material or naturalistic, that I can find in that reality.” Sheeley’s devotion to his immediate environment is aimed at allowing that environment to be itself and to bring forth its meaning. He is committed to a world that is meaningful and that is sacramental in character.
A sacramental world is, in the words of theologian Alexander Schmeeman, “in itself an essential means both of knowledge of God and communion with Him, and to be so is its true nature and its ultimate destiny.” Secularism, which is the affirmation of the world’s autonomy, is the result of an unfortunate turn of events in Western thought that defined the concepts ‘symbolic’ and ‘real’ as mutually exclusive. Many of Sheesley’s paintings bear witness to a sacramental reality by bringing different levels of reality, the ordinary and extraordinary, into close proximity.
This sacramental understanding of reality is matched by a sacramental way of seeing. His puddle paintings, in particular, are excellent examples of a ‘sacramental way of seeing.’ Looking at these paintings, we peer down at the puddles in the cracked earth and at the same time see the reflection of the sky and trees above us. The puddles themselves reference eyeholes, as if we could see through the ground. Sheesley combines ‘looking at’ and ‘looking beyond’ into a single action. As Sheesley observes: “because of the precedent of the Incarnation, people and objects in the visible world can be imbued with symbolic meaning.” The esteemed philosopher of science Holmes Rolston III writes that “humans are distinguished by their capacity to see others, to oversee a world. Environmental ethics calls for seeing nonhumans, for seeing the biosphere, ecosystem communities, fauna, flora, the Earth.” Sheesley’s artistic practice in a practice of seeing others aimed at discovering meaning in the world and not imposing meaning onto it.
After Paradise, 2002. 72 x 78″. Oil on Canvas
North America, 2004. 42 x 84″. Oil on Canvas.
Glory, 2006. 40 x 96″. Oil on Canvas.
Going Up, 2007. 45 x 81″. Oil on Canvas.