Joseph Marsh Sheridan Biography

Joseph Marsh Sheridan




Painter, muralist, ceramicist, and printmaker Joseph Marsh Sheridan - who often signed his works simply "Joseph" - was born in Quincy, Illinois on March 11, 1897, into a prominent local family whose pursuits included commercial and creative avenues. His father was the founder of the Quincy Tribune, his brother was a commerical artist, and various exended family members were painters, draughtsmen, and woodworkers. Before focusing on visual arts, Sheridan explored writing and theater, the latter being the vehicle which brought him to Beloit College in 1917. Upon graduating with his BA in 1922, he moved to New York with an aim for a career in theater, and while there he enrolled in night courses at the Art Students League as well as further studies in playwriting and acting at the University of New York and Columbia University. 

In 1923 Sheridan returned to Quincy for a short time, taking a position as an English and Drama teacher in a public high school and drawing in his spare time. The following year he relocated to Roswell, New Mexico, where he taught English and Economics at the New Mexico Military Institute. No doubt his time in the state known for its artistic magnetism deeply impressed the multi-talented Sheridan, and by 1928 he had abandoned all pursuits besides the visual arts and moved to Chicago to attend the Art Institute. There he took refresher courses in drawing as well as muralism and painting, and in 1929 accepted a position as a drawing instructor at the University of Minnesota. He began exhibiting his work and won a money prize for a group of drawings entered into the 15th Annual Twin Cities Artists exhibition, as well as critical acclaim for a group of watercolors sent to the Chicago Institute of Art Watercolor Exhibition. 

Sheridan's style found its stride after a pivotal 1931 visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, studying with acclaimed artists Hans Hoffman at the University of California, Berkeley, and with Alexander Archipenko at Mills College - after Archipenko secured a scholarship for Sheridan by commissioning a large tempera painting for the school. Sheridan established a studio in Berkeley and was soon exhibiting throughout the Bay Area, including major venues in San Francisco. Among these was a show at the Legion of Honor, where around seventy of his mixed media drawings were hung in 1932. His unique, stylized, Cubist-influenced imagery garnered comparisons to Lionel Feiniger as well as his mentors Hoffman, Archipenko, and John Norton, and inspired commissions for portraits of prominent people throughout the Bay. His work was received with great critial acclaim. Among these accolades was a write up by the artist and art critic Glenn Wessels: "Joseph Sheridan is not just another abstractionist. He is one of the few painters in California who has approached closely to the goal of sound pictorial organization. Sheridan's drawings...are not pure abstraction. Indeed the relationship to subject matter is seldom lost, but the subject matter is seen in a rhythmic fashion. The silhouettes flow around form as solidly architectural as the bay bridge towers, and yet each drawing is deliberately balanced in two dimenions as well."

Sheridan was soon invited to show his work in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, and in 1933, a traveling exhibition of the work of the American and European Abstractionists group, of which Sheridan was a part, was sent on throughout North America for two years. At this time, he also began working in printmaking, with a focus on lithography. As with many artists during the Depression, he also worked for the WPA's Federal Art Project, teaching and executing works in the graphics and mural divisions. He created several murals for local federal buildings including the Berkeley Public Library, Mills College, and two public high schools.

In the mid-1940s he worked in the art departments of the University of Arizona and Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA, and in the early 1960s he lived on the Navajo Nation reservation in New Mexico and Arizona, studying tradtional sand painting and taking trips into the desert to sketch and paint the landscape. He continued to paint throughout his teaching career, working in watercolor and tempera. His works are often abstract, symbolic, or strongly influenced by Cubism; he signed his paintings simply "Joseph." Sheridan died in Fresno, CA on March 3, 1971.

Exhibitions at: Minneapolis Inst., 1930; Art Institute of Chicago, 1931, 1933; Gump's (SF); SFAA; Oakland Art Gallery, 1932-45; San Francisco Museum of Art, 1932-45; Allied Arts Festival, Los Angeles Count Museum of Art, 1936; Mills College; UC.

His work can be found at the University of California, Berkeley; Piedmont High School (mural); Mills College, Oakland (mural); SFMA; Castlemont High School, Oakland (mural); Berkeley Public Library; Univ. of Minnesota; Beloit College; Oakland Public Library.