Tony Shore started painting on black velvet in the early ‘90s when he was a junior at MICA—where he received a full scholarship, incidentally. Growing up in Morrell Park, he’d spent every afternoon at the old Morrell Park Library drawing for hours on end, developing his uncanny ability as a natural draftsman. In early days, his now trademark acrylic-on-velvet paintings—scenes of working-class life in Pigtown and south Baltimore—communicated a caring yet caricature-esque appreciation of the people he’d grown up around. An anthropology course deepened his approach.
“Then my goal [became] to take these people considered lowbrow and material [considered kitschy] and paint both with the dignity that they deserved,” Shore says. “I was trying to make the subject matter museum-worthy, to paint them with the dignity that Velázquez painted his subjects with.”
If most of Shore’s paintings convey a photorealistic quality, that’s intentional—he generally paints from pictures he stages and shoots himself. One of his most celebrated series documents the life of his father, Harry—depicted above in “Dialysis”—who worked as a loading dock shipping clerk.
After winning the Janet and Walter Sondheim Award in 2007, the artist, who currently serves as chair of painting at MICA, submerged himself in oil painting for a time. But in the last couple of years, he has returned to acrylic on velvet to pick up a theme he began working with in 2007: scenes of street violence. His current work is inspired by the photography of his friend J.M. Giordano.
> See more of Shore’s work in the 15-artist show he’s also curating this November at MICA: “Baltimore Rising” will feature Joyce Scott, Giordano and a dozen other powerhouse makers meditating on the thematic title.