Urban art

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Michael Shibley does most of his painting in his basement studio. Photos by Justin Katz.

Michael Shibley says he’s not what most people think of when they hear the word artist.
“I’m a fairly organized person, which is not very typical for an artist,” he says, sitting in the basement of his

Takoma Park home with a large easel to his right, and a myriad of ribbons and paintings on the wall to his left.  “People think [artists] are scatterbrained and going in 20 directions at once.”


His work area is modest in size — a few feet wide and 15 feet long — with brushes, pencils and paints nudged into every crevice and books and bags stacked to the ceiling.

It looks chaotic, but “I have all the things I need at my fingertips,” says Shibley, 70, who has 37 watercolor and oil paintings on display at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington through March 5.

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Despite Shibley’s exhibits and progress from art student to teacher, he insists that painting has been — and still is —strictly a hobby.

“Despite the way it looks, I do this just because it is fun for me. Honestly, if I never sold another painting, it wouldn’t matter to me,” he says.


Shibley credits the subject of his paintings and tidy studio to a career in planning and zoning with the National Association of Home Builders, from which he retired in 2008.

Architecture is “particularly appealing to me because of my architecture background,” he says, with an in-progress painting of a busy London street sitting at his workstation.

He describes his style as realistic, but also impressionistic, a style that uses bold colors to capture an image without much detail. The cities he chooses to paint are largely the ones he and his wife travel to, such as Jerusalem to see one their sons.

Since urban environments such as crowded cities change quickly, he takes photographs of most scenes before painting.

“I try to interpret the photograph rather than copy it,” he says. This means filtering out insignificant details from the photograph while adding in his own details.

At the NAHB, being unorganized was not a luxury he could afford, he says. His retirement allowed him to pursue painting, which he had been doing in his free time.

Shibley has taken art lessons since his retirement in 2008. David Daniels, one of Shibley’s teachers, says the artist has an affinity for buildings and structures.

“He makes them almost have a soul,” Daniels says, adding that Shibley’s work is also impressive because he uses the synthetic paper yupo. Yupo has no texture, making it difficult to paint on. Daniels compares painting on yupo to painting on glass.

“Some people refuse to use it, but [Shibley] has mastered it,” he says.

The Bender Jewish Community Center exhibit, “A painter’s view: Jerusalem, London, Tuscany” runs through March 5.

Most of Shibley’s paintings at the JCC exhibit “A painter’s view: Jerusalem, London, Tuscany,” were painted on yupo. On opening night, dozens of people came to see Shibley’s paintings.

“I was so taken with his work. The color. The movement. It transports you to where the painting is, and he was a local artist,” says Lisa Del Sesto, cultural arts coordinator at the JCC and who chose to have Shibley’s work featured.

Shibley says the money he makes from selling his paintings goes back into his art.

“If I had to survive on the money I make painting, I’d be a lot thinner than I am now,” he says.
Most recently, nine years after retiring, Shibley was offered a job teaching watercolor painting. He sees it as his hobby coming “full circle.”

He says: “I’m pretty proud that I went from a student to a teacher in nine years, which I never would have guessed would ever happen.”

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