Michael Shipman was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, where he now resides.
Mr. Shipman attended the University of Arizona with a full Academic Regent’s Scholarship. He intended to major in Art but found that his ideas were not compatible with the program. He pursued instead a major in Computer Science and graduated magna cum laude in 1995, receiving the Department’s “Outstanding Senior Award”. His Honors Thesis concerned computer visualization. He interned for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and for the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
Mr. Shipman’s time in Maryland gave him the opportunity to explore the Nation’s Capitol, museums, monuments, and memorials. His experience at the Capitol, together with the atmosphere of NASA, prompted him to return to a career in art.
Mr. Shipman is largely self-taught, but benefited greatly from strict foundational training in drawing early in his career from Mr. Don Crowley of Tucson as well as from expert advice in handling paint, canvas, and art materials from Mr. Robert Doak of Brooklyn, New York.
Michael Shipman works primarily in graphite, oil, and watercolor. He also works in pastel, charcoal, and sculpture.
In 1998, Michael Shipman held a major exhibit of portraits of contemporary Native Americans entitled Visions and Voices at the Arizona State Museum on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. The exhibit depicts the individual qualities of American Indians in today's society. Mr. Shipman met with each of the participants personally and presented their portraits with quotes from them. The exhibit portrays Native Americans as human beings with feelings and fears of their own—one that does not keep them in the past, but presents them as they are today. In early 1999, the exhibit traveled to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and later that year it was displayed at the former Carnegie Library near the State Capitol Building.
Mr. Shipman’s exhibit Visions and Voices left him feeling that there was more to be said, something outside of the common experience of art that he wanted to bring to his paintings. He needed to go beyond the portrayal of human glory and the suffering of people. This led him to his studies of the book The Bondage of the Will, written by Martin Luther, and thus to his pictorial opera, Das Gold im neuen Altgeist (The Gold in the Modern-Day Spirit of Old), which took several years to develop. While Visions and Voices depicts the achievements and suffering of people, Das Gold denies the concept of man’s self-confidence and glory.
Another influence on Shipman’s presentation is the work of German composer Richard Wagner, in particular the epic opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, in which Nordic legends and the River Rhine are central. Der Ring dramatizes the struggles among warring forces of spiritual powers in their pursuit to gain ownership of the ring, which is forged from the gold of the river Rhine and represents the force that opposes the gold. These forces are also at play in the opera Lohengrin, in which Elsa is commanded to trust her knight but not to ask for or seek to know his name. A thread that runs through much of Wagner’s work is the idea that compassion of a mortal man can bring deliverance from the curses that weigh upon the characters. The contrast between this and The Bondage of the Will molds the ideas that pervade Mr. Shipman’s artwork.
A course on the ideas of German philosophers taught by Dr. Steven Martinson at the University of Arizona during Mr. Shipman’s undergraduate studies provided valuable insight into his understanding of Wagner’s work.
Michael Shipman’s travels to Germany in 2005 provided an important influence on his artwork. He visited Leipzig, Dresden, Wittenberg, and Berlin and traced the footsteps of Luther through several towns. He also visited Museums and attended performances such as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion and Wagner’s Parsifal. His visits to New York City in 2007 and Washington, D. C., in 2008 provided inspiration for his presentation of “Walhalla” in Das Gold. In 2010, Shipman traveled to Spain, visiting several museums.
In 2009, during travels in the wilderness of Colorado, Mr. Shipman began his plans for an exhibition of landscapes that would present the gold of his previous work in the setting of nature. The paintings in The Gold and the Gold Rush in the American West draw on scenes from the artist's home state of Arizona and from his travels through mountains, canyons, deserts, forests, and plains of the American West. While the gold rush of the western pioneers is long past, the gold rush depicted in this exhibit continues. In these paintings, we find a new richness and variety of color, due to the artist's new techniques in mixing his own paints and varnishes from raw pigments, oils, and other elements.