East City Interviews: Ethiopian-American Artist Dilip Sheth

By Sayyah George on November 15, 2012


Dilip Sheth with "Desert Dune" in the background. Photo Sayyah Hart-Bey.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with artist, Dilip Sheth about his art. We met at his Artful Framing & Gallery store in Takoma Park, MD which will celebrate 18 years in business this July. Seth is a middle-aged, handsome man; his hair is wavy with perfectly arrayed silver streaks running through it. His skin is a caramel brown like the images of people I see in the paintings that abound in the room.

Sheth’s demeanor is serious and his eyes are kind as he talks about his life as an artist. Not only is he a painter; he is also an accomplished musician and a business man who was smart enough to merge framing and art to create a successful business that allows him the freedom to create art that sells. He has been exposed to many worlds and no place is this more evident than in his art work. He has worked in management most of his life and began painting professionally later in life. He decided to study art while managing an art gallery in the early nineties and studied at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

He also supports the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW), where his children attend workshops regularly. CHAW has been dedicated to the art education of adults and children since 1972.

The Hill Center is the venue for his latest show which will have its opening reception on November 15th from 6pm to 8pm, and runs through January 6, 2013. Sheth will be displaying his work along with a few other artists at the show. He exhibits at venues such as Gallery 500 and just recently completed a one man show at Pierce School Lofts (Evolve Urban Arts Project) on Maryland Ave in NE.

The artist also owns a row house on Capitol Hill where one floor has been transformed into an art gallery. The walls are filled with much of his unique permanent collection amalgamated with his own artwork. Each year he has a solo show at the gallery which is located in Northeast DC.

Sidamo coffee shop on Capitol Hill is where I first encountered his liberated and majestic creations. I was drawn to the innocence and serenity in the art that Sheth creates. He paints resplendent masterpieces of the places that he has lived and travelled to throughout his life. Each magnus opus is a testament to his keen mastery of color and composition, which is evidenced in the landscapes of tranquil and serene earth lands, the lonely stills that feature the worn and rugged furnishings that decorate the homes of everyday folks and the nostalgic portraits that make up his collection.

He exudes the confidence of a businessman as he speaks to me about his career.  I am curious about how the artist is able to stay afloat financially when so many artists cannot. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my wife, we are a team” he says sincerely. He explains that his “main gig” in the late nineties and early two thousands was to be part of the New York Art Expo held annually at the Javitz Center in Manhattan. It is the world’s number one fine art expo where hundreds of fellow artist and art galleries flock to get exposure at a fee.  “Participation in this expo being so expensive”, he says.  “I would not have been able to afford to attend the expo if I did not own the frame shop”.

Dilip Sheth "Sixty-Five Roses". Photo by Sayyah Hart-Bey.

A portrait of a beautiful woman standing alone in a kitchen catches my eye in the studio and before I can ask about it, the artist declares, “Portraits don’t give me pleasure; I only paint them if I am commissioned to do one.”  Sheth also tells me that he learned to create portraits while studying art at the Corcoran. Sheth prefers free hand, that is, totally free flowing art like the landscapes I see as I follow him across the room to his “Moon Series” which, (in part) will be included in his upcoming show.  The series was named by the artist’s 10 year old son Azariah and features majestic landscapes, where meadows meet the earth and streams seem to flow spiritually beneath the moons bright eye.

My favorite work is his “One Sunday Afternoon” a piece implicative of communal serenity, familiarity and love; it is a nostalgic piece that reminds me of my childhood, family and love.  “I paint a lot from memory, especially childhood memories come out in my work” says Sheth validating my interpretation.  He credits his family background to the international landscapes that he creates. His Mother is a descendant of Greek and Ethiopian ancestry and his father is of Indian descent, but grew up in Ethiopian culture with Amharic as his first language.

As we converse about his artwork, I learn that his influences are Van Gogh, Matisse, and Gauguin and I can see the evidence in the clash and contrast of the most disparate reds, yellows and blues which remind me of the way Van Gogh took revenge against the ills of life through his use of brilliant color in his well-arranged resplendent work. Sheth’s paintings are animate with color and details; he paints in deep blues, browns and vivid reds; his subjects sit against bold paradisiacal backgrounds and beneath azure skies that are deep and wide.

The “Out of Eden” painting is in my opinion, a testament to Van Gogh’s belief that, “color expresses something in itself”.  The artist uses subtle hues in this piece that cause the land to glow vibrate and reflect light, color and energy. He uses the color red abstractly and musically like a composer in this work, which communicates the artist’s mastery of color and composition.  His arbitrary use of color radiates a passion for color and light through the electrifying juxtapositions in everyday scenes of serenity and tranquility.

It took Sheth three years to finish the painting. “It’s my idea of the Garden of Eden”, he explains and goes on to say, “I kept going back changing it; I just had this feeling that it wasn’t finished” He says, “I put the two smaller red trees in last and then I knew it was finished, knowing where to place the trees in the landscape is evidence of the artists impressive understanding of composition. I cannot resist asking the price of the original masterpiece. Before answering the question, he explains, “the original is like your child, as a parent you love all of your children but you are partial to a few”.

He goes on to explain  “I prefer to keep the original of this one because I am amazed by it, and can’t believe that I created it; at some point art goes beyond the artist and becomes something on its own” says Sheth.

The artist says he sometimes feels guilty for not wanting to part with the original, so he has perfected the giclée which he is well known in the art world for. The “giclée” is a printing method created by the fine art print maker Jack Dugane in the late nineteen eighties. The French word giclée means to spray giving it a direct correlation with inkjet printers such as the Iris. This process makes it very cost effective for artists due to the fact that each print in the edition could be ordered as the artist sells his or her work rather than investing in the whole run like when lithographs were popular before giclées came to play.

Steth’s limited edition giclées are hand embellished and he uses heavy impasto reminiscent of Henri Matisse to give it an original look resulting in one of a kind pieces.  Essentially, if a customer doesn’t want to pay for the original, they have the option of purchasing a giclée of the original for less. “Painting does not come easy I try to put a lot of work into my art because the goal is to create a nicely crafted display; I want everyone to know that I am serious and I am not just out there to sell, I want to please also”. I believe the artist has indeed accomplished his goal.

For more information visit the artists website at www.dilip-sheth.artistwebsites.com