SPORTS, STYLE & INSPIRATION
SHEILA WOLK – “SPIRIT OF HYPER-REALITY” – 1987 SPORT ARTIST OF THE YEAR-
AND NOW FANTASY ART
Wolk’s preferred style of pastels mixed smoothly with sports, mixing drama and blending intensity, power and grace, humor and tension, anguish with desperation. They are the emotions athletes juggle during the course of a competition, on a play-to-play basis.
Many artists use pastels for sketching, but Wolk is one of the few to master using the medium for painting. She cites Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo as her major sources of inspiration.
“My art has been the one constant factor that has helped me through the tough times, and there have been plenty of those!” she said.
Sheila Wolk’s first foray into sport art was the depiction of a boxing match. “It’s such an animalistic sport,” she said. “I wanted to show the struggling, the battle.” Wolk devoted twenty-three years of her career to the struggles and battles athletes endure every time they step on the playing field.
Before she painted a subject, Wolk studied photos of the sport and attempted to adopt a player’s state of mind. She would imagine the athlete’s weight and balance before proceeding. “What I do in essence is a self-portrait,” is how she described the process.
Her subjects included winners, such as tennis great Bjorn Borg as well as events that branded athletes as legends. She also painted the shrines that served as homes for their amazing accomplishments.
Still, there was always a place in Wolk’s work for the little guy, the athlete who may not cross the finish line first, but always gets credit for trying their best. She has professed her admiration of the athlete who “…comes in last. He’s not a loser because he is in there competing.”
Wolk’s works for the 1988 Olympics displayed a transition into her new style of art, hyper-realism. The style is defined as taking art one step beyond what a camera can do. This is not to be confused with other hyper-realism art movements which emphasize life-like paintings. With hyper-reality, art literally exposes the soul. The movement began in France, but Wolk was among the first Americans to explore and paint in this style.
Wolk was not only preserving the image of the sporting moments she would capture, but she discovered the very essence of them, the things that touched us in those moments.
The New York artist successfully turned the soft-edged medium of pastels into paintings capturing the glory and pain and agony and ecstasy of athletic competition. Wolk managed to incorporate her personal philosophy into her works. She showed there is more to a photograph than just colors and objects. ASAMA curator Robert Zimlich says of Sheila’s work,
“Her pastel painting of the 1987 New Orleans Saints’ head coach, Jim Mora, is a creative masterpiece. Her skill is evidenced in Mora’s hair, which is better than a photograph could have captured. Using musical instruments to represent New Orleans jazz is creative enough but the piece de resistance is using football plays as notes on a musical staff. Never under estimate this artist. Sheila always does her homework. Those are actually Mora’s winning plays.”
Wolk eventually left the sport artist profession, after deciding it was time for a change. She left at the top of her profession with a number of one-woman shows, numerous exhibitions, corporate collections in double-digit numbers, and a wealth of lithographs and posters published and distributed. She admitted it was a scary decision. “Being a woman in that world was extremely difficult. I won many awards, had hundreds of shows, was known all over the world and yet I still had to fight for every penny.”
The next stage of Wolk’s career took her into the land of fantasy, of mermaids and fairies. She blends techniques to create a stirring glimpse into a magical world of lore, myths and legends. “Art has to touch you somewhere,” she said.
The style fit Wolk perfectly, as she channeled the pain over her childhood into her art. One of her landmark paintings, “The Weanling,” was a prime example of her work during this period. She said the work expresses “man’s inner conflict within himself.”
Wolk’s transition into fantasy art seems like a natural step in that it goes beyond what photographs can do. It’s a step beyond real in more ways than an exaggeration of real. There is a connection that, at their very core, these paintings, like her sport art, revert to some basic human concept or experience.
SHEILA WOLK – “SPIRIT OF HYPER-REALITY” – 1987 SPORT ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Study of Football Players Hands
Like many children, Sheila Wolk wanted to be an athlete growing up. Unfortunately, bad knees didn’t allow her to participate like she’d hoped. Wolk had dreams of becoming a competitive swimmer, but two dislocated kneecaps served as a roadblock.
So Wolk went in different directions, taking up sports like golf, archery, billiards, and darts.
“I appreciate sports,” she once said. “Even if it’s just rifle shooting. If there’s a TV movie on that’s about sports, I’ll watch that too.”
1984 World Series Program Cover
Wolk was a graduate of the Corcoran School of Art, an affiliate of George Washington University. She also studied at Britain’s Leeds School of Art, New York’s School of Visual Arts and the Kansas City Art Institute. Her career began as an art director for a pharmaceutical advertising agency and as a medical illustrator. Demonstrating her skills in the human form, she produced her first pastel in sport art with a 1978 boxing match.
Wolk began her fine art education in the 1960s before switching to commercial art.
“I was going to leave home and needed to find a job,” she said. “It was easier to earn money through commercial art than struggling as a fine artist waiting to be discovered.
After eight years with an advertising agency, Wolk returned to freelancing. She went on to open a business with an original line of tote bags, including the first silk-screened canvas tote bag in America, the Volkswagen Tote Bag. The line expanded to include baby night shirts, but the operation was shut down across America by the government when a fire-retardant chemical, “triss,” used to produce the shirts was banned. The development left Wolk devastated and bankrupt.
Wolk entered the sport artist field shortly after her business venture, and quickly rose to the top of her profession. She earned praise for her depictions of everything from horse racing, baseball, tennis, football, and golf. A review from a New York City show offered this praise: “Her descriptive skill is up to any moment and her draftsmanship is without question.”
KEY SPORT WORKS & WORLD INFLUENCE
SHEILA WOLK – “SPIRIT OF HYPER-REALITY” –
1987 SPORT ARTIST OF THE YEAR- AND NOW FANTASY
Artist Biography | Style & Inspiration | Key Sport Works & World Influence
Study of Athlete
The girl who dreamed of becoming a star swimmer growing up instead became a ground-breaking woman in the sport art world. Wolk was the first woman to be commissioned by Major League Baseball to do the cover for the Official World Series program. She had an exhibition in Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and a drawing of Yankees legends Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, drew critical acclaim.
Wolk also created Winter Olympic posters for the 1980 Lake Placid hockey competition, best known for the United States’ “Miracle on Ice” gold medal moment. She also had an exhibition at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and was commissioned to produce works for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team depicting ice skating, skiing, hockey, swimming, gymnastics and track and field.
A special spread called “Pastel on Ice” in the National Hockey League (NHL) official magazine also attracted special attention. Her magazine essay was done “…on 100 percent rag cotton paper with soft pastels.” In a press release announcing her as the 1987 Sport Artist of the Year, Wolk said she used an elongation effect for the NHL essay because:
“It is hard-core hockey and when you know the anatomy you can distort it and the stretching effect captures the movement.” She described the blurred image as “a fusion effect.” Her goal in the painting was to create a dreamlike calmness and let the viewer of the painting use their imagination.
Wolk’s career eventually turned in another direction, but she picked up her share of honors and recognition along the way. Her portrayals of athletes and their struggles and successes helped Wolk earn the 1987 Sport Artist of the Year award from the United States Sports Academy. Her legacy in the sport genre was secure. In another groundbreaking moment for Wolk, she was the first woman to be honored by ASAMA.
Wolk was lauded by the co-chairmen of the ASAMA Art Committee when she was named Sport Artist of the Year. Jane Williamson and Faye Earnest Carr were impressed with “Ms. Wolk’s unique use of an art medium normally thought of for only still lifes, flower studies, landscapes and formal, posed portraits.”
Wolk once said: “I love sports because of the energy.” It is the same energy bundled into her paintings that brought her work to the attention of the sports world and the ASAMA Art Committee, leaving behind an impact in the sport art community that endures.
ASAMA // THE AMERICAN SPORT ART MUSEUM & ARCHIVES
I was named Sport Artist of the Year in 1987. American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA) gave this auspicious award to my soft-edged pastel paintings of the hard action sports .