Maris Shepherd is an American artist who specializes in painting all things historic, from Saudi landmarks to farms and ancient ruins.
“When I travel, I don’t look for brand new or modern, I look for the culturally classic architecture for each region of the world. I have been to 72 different countries now and I am always looking for the oldest and most classic area,” she explained to Arab News.
The 81-year-old first visited the Kingdom in 1999 and 2000 to teach art and paint artworks commissioned by some of the most well-known figures in the region. Now, upon her return, she described Saudi Arabia as being unrecognizable from how it was two decades ago.
“I think what struck me the most powerfully was how much bigger it is now, all the new buildings and the modernity of it is so sophisticated, you know, I’m very impressed with the way it’s grown,” she said.
As a teenager, Shepherd was a draftsman, before shifting her work into watercolors when she began taking classes in her 30s.
“I had three little kids at the time and my husband said he would stay with the kids that night one night a week if I wanted to go take the classes, which I did, and I started winning awards right away. I was good at it right from the beginning,” she said.
Since then, she has studied watercolor technique with some of the best-known names in art, including Charles Reid, Millard Sheets, Robert E. Wood, Tony Couch, Ron Ranson and Tom Lynch.
“I think I always liked to look at watercolor at exhibits. I found that one reason that they’re so attractive to the viewer is because it’s transparent and you are looking through the pigment at the white paper and it reflects light back through the pigment like a stained glass window,” Shepherd said.
“In the beginning of my career, I painted things that I saw, I observed. I never made anything up,” she added.
#WATCH: 81-year-old artist Maris Shepherd first visited #SaudiArabia in 1999 and 2000 and on her return, described the Kingdom as being unrecognizable from how it was two decades ago Read more here: https://t.co/Sj9xUz37Cl pic.twitter.com/ZtzT5aNawg— Arab News (@arabnews) November 16, 2021
The question many have asked her is how did an artist who studied architectural engineering in Texas and is a mother of three find herself creating commissioned artworks for members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia.
“My cousin was working in Bahrain as a helicopter pilot and he found out that I taught my brother how to paint in Texas and he said, ‘When are you going to come here and teach me how to paint,’” she explained.
Initially, Shepherd started her journey in the Gulf in Bahrain, before eventually transferring to Saudi Arabia with her cousin. She was based in Riyadh and continued to teach him how to paint.
Her journey didn’t end there, however, as she began teaching classes for many young female painters in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh.
“I find an immense amount of talent in Saudi Arabia. The women that I’ve met are super-talented and I hope that they continue to develop and show their work. Maha Malluh, one of my students, is doing it in London and I think that little girls that grow up should be encouraged to draw and to paint,” Shepherd said.
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Her journey continued when she enlisted an agent in the Kingdom who owned many local art galleries. There, she was introduced to some high-profile individuals and she began to paint commissioned artwork for them. Among those figures was Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim astronaut.
Shepherd shared that, at the time, there was a trend for square paintings rather than the traditional rectangular ones.
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