Artist leaves behind acting career, settles in Lower Burrell
By Joyce Hanz
Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 4:03 p.m.
Lower Burrell's David Shipley, 60, has worn the hat of artist, Christian crusader and television actor, but the yearning to create and develop as an artist always prevailed.
“I loved to draw and make pictures,” Shipley says, “but I was born with ... an essential tremor, and my hands would shake. My second-grade teacher told me one day in class, ‘I hope you don't plan on being an artist with those shaking hands.' ”
Shipley manages his condition with medications, but in school, he couldn't carry his cafeteria tray and was teased by classmates who called him “Shakely.” Instead of backing down, he worked out with weights, bulked up and became a star football player in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas.
The day after he graduated from high school, Shipley spent two years hitchhiking across America, supporting a vagabond lifestyle with his art skills and painting watercolors for tourists. “I would paint for the tourists at Santa Monica Pier (in California) and earn money and save.”
“I am a born-again Christian,” Shipley says. “I always have been strong in my faith, and I had my head on straight as I traveled the U.S. I had no plans and put my faith in providence.”
Shipley graduated in 1979 with a bachelor of fine arts degree from Texas Tech University, then traveled the United States with noted evangelical Christian pastor David Wilkerson, who founded the nondenominational Times Square Church in New York and the addiction-recovery program “Teen Challenge.”
After Shipley auditioned and was accepted into acting school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, “I crammed my Toyota with my belongings and moved to Pasadena, Calif., in 1981.”
He spent the next 20 years acting. “My first job was with a television series called ‘The Devlin Connection' (which starred Rock Hudson and Jack Scalia). I had a role speaking as a cop, and it took place on the beach. I auditioned for ‘Baywatch' and ‘C.H.I.P.S.' and countless others.
“I had that blond, nice-guy-next-door look that was very in. I did theater, commercials, TV and soaps; just about everyone in the business was on a soap opera,” Shipley says, jokingly.
His recurring role on the series “The Devlin Connection” had him on the set four days a week and gave him time to paint and create his art.
“I never stopped making my art even with all of the acting. Acting was a physical manifestation of the creative process,” Shipley says. “My art was very theatrical. The art and acting intertwined with each other. There have been three elements to my creative process: my relationship with Jesus, my art and my acting. They all interconnect into a tapestry of creativity that impacts every aspect of my life.”
Shipley's most-notable acting role was that of John Tyler on the now-defunct CBS soap opera “Capitol.”
“I was on the series as a contract player, from 1985-1987. I played a lawyer. We shot in L.A., and my character was from Dallas; that part was easy. My character, John, had a dark side, a nice side and cheated, stole and almost had to kill someone,” Shipley recalls. “You know, typical soap-opera stuff.”
During the 1980s, Shipley's art career flourished, and he became the “It” artist of Southern California.
“The '80s had excess young artists, cutting-edge art,” he says. “My work was 3-D and abstract. I paint and create with super-realism and amplify things with a fantasy element.”
Shipley's work caught the eye of gallery owner Diana Jacobs. “Diana and her husband, David Jacobs, who was the producer of ‘Knots Landing' and creator of ‘Dallas' (on CBS), owned a gallery in West Hollywood called Biota,” Shipley says. “They represented me, and my art was selling and I would sell out shows. This really catapulted my career. I was known from my acting, but I wanted to be known for my art more.”
Soon he was. Shipley was selected to create a sculpture for President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan at a charity benefit called Athletes & Entertainers for Kids.
Shipley attended the event and met the Reagans. He says the president was not star-struck and thought Reagan “reminded me of my dad; he was very warm, and Mrs. Reagan was a delight. It hit me later in life, how much of an honor it was to do that.”
In 2000, Shipley stopped acting and immersed himself into his art career.
“I moved to Palm Springs, always focused on my art, and it was the death of my acting career,” he says. “I moved from 3-D work to 2-D work, and my work consisted of large-scale abstracts at that time. My work has always been influenced by my environment. The lighting in Palm Springs provided a great use of light and color. I have found the same benefit living in Pittsburgh and recently completed my series ‘Allegheny Autumn,' with Pittsburgh's fall colors as inspiration.”
A cross-country road trip in 2010 found Shipley spending time in Pittsburgh visiting friends.
“I met the owner of La Fond Gallery (now closed) and had a one-man show at La Fond after spending the summer in Manchester, N.H. I found Pittsburgh to be a visual delight and was visually awed by the city. The openness and friendliness of the city lured me to move and relocate here.”
Shipley settled in Lower Burrell in 2012. He is represented by Michael Hertrich Art in the South Side. Owner Michael Hertrich says he thinks Shipley will do well. “I like large contemporary color field artists. ... I take the time to develop my artists, work with them and am very involved. I have sold several pieces of David's work and like to have seven or eight pieces of his art in my gallery.”
Shipley plans to establish a studio, host workshops, lecture on art and establish himself with the museums in Pittsburgh. He currently has his studio in his renovated garage guest house in Lower Burrell. He also has embarked on a project called “Kids 1st Art,” to create artwork of children for families.
“I have been commissioned to paint small paintings of children. I've had clients in New York and Los Angeles and now want to develop this in Pittsburgh.
“The possibilities are wonderful in this city,” Shipley says. “Pittsburgh's art scene is exciting, with not one group dictating the direction. People here are very independent, which allows for a lot of experimenting and pushing the envelope with art. It reminds me of L.A. in the '80s. Pittsburgh embraces the arts; that's why I'm here now.”
Joyce Hanz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
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