“There is a mystery that permeates the everyday world, even the most mundane objects. I think, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about for me. Making art is a way to try and capture a bit of that mystery.”
Even as a small child, Sheryl Tempchin felt compelled to make images of the world as she saw it or imagined it, drawing and coloring on any available surface, including the margins and endpapers of her parents’ books.
“Fortunately for me,” she says, “my mom and dad were proud of my artistic attempts and didn’t mind too much.”
The oldest of four children, Tempchin was born in Minnesota, where she spent much of her childhood. Some of her happiest memories are of her grandparents’ farm near the small town of Carlos.
“For us kids, the farm was a magical kingdom where we were able to roam freely without a lot of adult supervision,” she says. “It was a beautiful place. My grandmother was a dedicated gardener and there were flowers everywhere. Plus there were chickens, a friendly farm dog, and a treehouse that my dad and his brothers built when they were kids. Often, I would just wander around alone, or with the dog. I loved the solitude, thinking my own thoughts and spending time in nature.”
That early exposure to the beauty of the countryside and her grandmother’s gardens stayed with her and continues to be an influence on her life and art.
When her father’s job took the family to California, Tempchin missed her grandparents and the farm, but California soon won her over. Her family settled in the town of Escondido, a half-hour drive from the coast. On weekends in the summer, they would pile into the car and head to the beach. She remembers the first time she saw the Pacific Ocean.
“It was just so overwhelmingly enormous that I was completely awed. I felt like I was like standing on the edge of the world. Something about that really excited my imagination. I thought it would be wonderful to live at the beach all the time.”
After she graduated from high school, Tempchin attended Palomar, a two-year community college, where she majored in art, planning to transfer to a four-year college to complete a teaching degree.
“It didn’t occur to me to become a full-time artist. No one I knew was an artist. I figured if I wanted to earn a living with art, I’d have to teach.”
Her plans changed when she decided she needed to leave the family home and move into her own place, a tiny cottage two blocks from the beach.
She quit school in order to work full time at a series of jobs that included waitress, telephone solicitor, and factory worker. Then a friend invited her to go to Hawaii and stay for a few months with her and her family.
Tempchin stayed in Honolulu half a year, working in a drugstore to pay her way, and drawing in her sketchbook whenever she had the time. She was moved by the lush tropical beauty of the islands and thought for a while she might stay permanently, but in the end, she missed her home and returned to California.
She had only been back a few months when another friend invited her on a road trip to New York. She ended up moving in with two girls she met there and stayed through the winter.
“I had never seen anything like New York City,” Tempchin says. “It was big and loud and scary and surreal and it changed my life. I spent many hours hanging out in the museums and saw wonderful works of art that I had previously known only as pictures in books. I kept a sketch book and drew in it constantly, inspired by the art I was seeing and by the life and energy of the city.”
But she missed the natural beauty and laid-back atmosphere of the west coast, and when summer came she travelled back across country to California again, settling in the beach town of Encinitas, where she found a job as a paste-up artist for a local newspaper.
Around that time, she met her husband Jack, a young singer/songwriter, in a coffee house where he was playing. They both felt a powerful connection and within a couple of months they moved in together.
“Jack and I recognized each other as creative spirits. We both had a strong desire to make something that wasn’t there before, he with his music and I with my art. We felt we were meant to be together.”
They also shared a desire to travel. They spent most of a year wandering around the U.S. and Canada in an old Volkswagen bus they fixed up as a camper. Later, they made several trips to Europe, something Tempchin had always wanted to do. It was on one of those trips that she visited the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and saw Monet’s waterlily paintings.
“Those paintings just knocked me off my feet,” she says. “I realized for the first time how incredibly powerful and spiritual art could be.
For several years the couple lived in Los Angeles, so that Jack could pursue his music career. It was there that Tempchin saw a collection of paintings by Mark Rothko at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“I was familiar with Rothko’s work from books,” Tempchin says, “but reproductions can’t convey the power of the originals. I was amazed by the strength of the emotions that washed over me as I looked at those paintings, each one as large as a doorway. And they really were doorways—into the artist’s emotional world. I wanted to know how he did it. How did he put all that feeling into what was essentially a rectangle of oil paint on canvas? It was a wonderful mystery that I wanted to solve.”
The next few years were busy as Jack’s songwriting career took off and they had a son, Robert. Although she continued to draw and paint, Tempchin still didn’t pursue a career in art. After the family moved back to Encinitas, she went back to school at San Diego State University San Marcos, where she studied her other passion, literature. That led, several years later, to her creating a literary journal, Zahir, which she edited for nearly a decade, publishing short stories by dozens of writers.
“It was very rewarding in every way but financial,” she laughs.
Designing the books and their covers was one of the most enjoyable parts of her self-made job, and led her to realize that her real calling was, and had always been, art. When an opportunity arose to rent a studio space with the Encinitas Art Colony, she jumped on it.
“I had never had a studio outside my home before,” she says. “Something about having that dedicated space, where there was nothing to do but make art, really stimulated me creatively, and the work just started pouring out.”
She began painting in acrylics, experimenting with different styles and techniques. At first her paintings were highly stylized but still recognizably figurative. An acquaintance, who owned the First Street Gallery in Encinitas saw her work and offered her a show. The paintings sold well, giving her the confidence she needed to keep going.
Her work became more and more abstract as she found herself reaching beyond what she could see toward something hidden that seemed, in a way, more real.
Other shows followed. She has exhibited her paintings locally at the Encinitas City Hall, the L Street Gallery in San Diego, the San Diego Art Institute, and the Oceanside Museum of Art. Her work has also been shown further afield in places such as the Sylvia White Gallery in Ventura, the Las Laguna Gallery in Laguna Beach, the Verum Ultimum Gallery in Portland, Oregon, and the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts.
When the building that housed her studio was torn down to make way for a new development, Tempchin relocated a few miles away to New Village Arts in Carlsbad, a complex that includes a theatre, a gallery space and 16 working artists’ studios. It turned out to be an excellent fit.
“There’s always something going on at NVA. There is a lot opportunity for community involvement, and having a vibrant theatre company in the same building keeps things lively.”
Over the next few years, her painting style kept evolving as she struggled to find the best way to express herself.
“I had dreams about making art where the paintings were amazing, but when I woke up, I couldn’t quite remember what they looked like. They were phantoms, just out of reach.”
She came to a point where she felt that she had hit a wall and she decided to look for a class or workshop, something to give her a fresh perspective.
She found a workshop at the Scottsdale Artists’ School by abstract painter Marianne Mitchell. The only problem was, Mitchell worked in oils and Tempchin used acrylics.
“I loved Marianne’s work, so I decided to go for it anyway, and I went out and bought oil paints. The techniques that Marianne taught plus the unique qualities of the oils made a big difference to my work. I felt that I had found a new path that would take me closer to those phantom paintings in my dreams.”
Tempchin has continued to work in oils and in early 2018 had a solo exhibition of her new work at New Village Arts, which she titled Dreaming in Color.
“My paintings are about the natural world, the sea, the sky, and the life that surrounds me,” she says. “What I’m interested in is not so much how things look as how they make me feel, and the mystery behind it all. That’s what I’m aiming for. Through my paintings, I hope people can connect to that sense of mystery, and to the awe and joy it brings.”