Type-A Artist, Lynnette Shelley
by David P. Kozinski
~ Part One of Two ~
When Lynnette Shelley was a tyke in kindergarten her class was offered various activities to participate in, at various stations around the room. The idea was for the children to be exposed to various educational pursuits. Shelley made a beeline for the visual art station and stayed there until she was gently but firmly moved along to try some of the other activities. No matter; a love affair, in the form of a healthy obsession, had begun and she has always returned to painting, drawing, and other visual media.
Shelley describes herself as a type-A personality and although she generously and enthusiastically gave of her time during the interview for this article, there was no doubt that she meant that time to be well-spent. Besides talking about her work and career, she is quite willing to offer practical advice to beginning and emerging artists from what she has learned while working as a journalist, a graphic designer and for two galleries; all while deliberately transforming the focus of her work life to producing, exhibiting and selling her fine art.
On the first day of summer, Shelley showed me a variety of mixed media paintings, created on wood panels, that depict in vivid colors and strong lines, a menagerie of stylized creatures. The settings often highlight through symbols, or suggest by juxtaposition, the various animals’ traits and their identifications in folklore and mythology. “Moondancers” offers a trio of hares facing, and dancing around, a spread-winged owl. At the bottom of the picture, the ears of a fourth rabbit are visible, as if there might be a whole down of hares gathered just beyond the scope of the scene. The artist explained that hares and owls have long been thought of as ‘lunar” animals and the orb they celebrate in her painting hangs as a gold crescent at the upper left of the work.
“Hares are sometimes portrayed as tricksters or as sacrificial beings in the old stories and in artwork,” Shelley observes. “Instead of a man in the moon, the ancients of Asia saw a rabbit in the moon,” she continues, and then briefly relates a legend of three animals that come upon the Buddha, disguised as a beggar. The first two creatures offer the poor man the food they have, which he declines. The hare is about to throw himself on the fire to provide the beggar sustenance, but is spared. To honor his selflessness, the hare’s likeness is painted on the face of the moon for all to see.
Shelley notes that most of the myths and folklore she has absorbed come from Celtic, Asian and Meso-American sources. Shelley’s paintings are not representations of stories, but draw from an amalgam of these traditions. Although this sort of background information is not essential to the enjoyment of her work, it lends it an extra layer of meaning and pleasure. She also cites Celtic art and art nouveau as early influences on her visual style.
Many of Shelley’s creations are rendered with a dominant color and all of the works referred to in this article employ more than one medium. More often than not, she begins with the background, usually in ink, which she splashes or pours on. Sometimes the patterns in the ink wash influence the positioning of the images superimposed on it. She outlines the figures in chalk and applies acrylic paint to areas that will be opaque. She then adds more details with various implements, like an ink pen or a knife. Less often, she works “front to back”, beginning with the foreground and ending with the background.
At a glance, both “Moondancers” and “The Koi Dragon” seem dominated by shades of red. The latter uses turquoise as a dramatic contrast and includes gold, black and a silvery white. Again, the piece relates to a folk tale. Many koi were striving to swim upstream through the rapids. Demons made the angle of ascent steeper and steeper until only one koi remained, struggling toward, and finally gaining, the top of the waterfall. For its persistence, the fish was transformed into a glorious dragon.
Some works include three-dimensional elements in the form of eggshell or paper fragments. Shelly’s friend, the artist Jennifer Domal, creates “pysanki” artwork – extremely detailed decoration of eggs – using the Eastern European technique that bears comparison with batik in its use of wax. Occasionally an egg Domal is working on breaks and Shelley is the beneficiary of vividly colored shell fragments. She attaches the bits to her panels with a gel medium, as seen in “The Koi Dragon” and in “Sun Eater”, a stately dragon presented in primarily gold and orange hues. The egg is widely understood as a symbol of life and fertility. Even if the casual viewer does not recognize the material as such, the use of eggshell fragments in works concerned with birth, metamorphosis and life’s cycle seems most appropriate.
In the backgrounds of works like “Regalia (the Peacock)” and “Three Magpies” Shelley achieves a mosaic effect by cutting up and coloring pieces of watercolor paper which are applied to the panel. Because the effect is not fashioned with tile but resembles its three-dimensionality, she refers to the technique as “fauxsaic”. A similar effect is achieved in “The King”, where a lion with a crisply outlined mane stares directly at the viewer. The background is not “fauxsaic” but is a pattern of geometric shapes that are painted in white, black, amber and yellow; influenced in part by African textile patterns. In combining media in innovative ways and composing her subjects in unexpected poses with a selective palette, Shelley’s work is not only decorative, but nuanced and memorable.
Represented by Mala Galleria in Kennett Square, PA and by Ivystone Studio in Downingtown, PA, where she is also gallery manager, Shelley keeps a busy schedule. She is currently preparing for a show in Rehobeth, DE in September-October, where as many as 25 of her paintings will be on display. One of her horse-themed works will be featured in Canton, Ohio at the Ikon Images Gallery in an exhibit titled, "The Art of Saving a Horse", from mid-October through the end of 2017. She will participate in the Delaware County Studio Tour in October; share the spotlight in a two-person show with Joon Farlam at Mala Galleria in Kennett Square, PA in November; and to round out the calendar, will have work in the Holiday Group Show at Red Raven Art Company in Lancaster, PA in December.
Readers of this space have seen several articles about artists who work successfully in more than one art form. Shelley is one of therm. Along with a successful career in visual art, she is also an accomplished singer and songwriter. A founding member of the progressive/psychedelic rock band The Red Masque, she also began working with an art rock group called Green Cathedral a few years ago. Part Two of this article will appear in the next edition of SVJ Online and explore more of the work of this multi-talented artist.
David P. Kozinski first full-length book of poems, Tripping Over Memorial Day (Kelsay Books), was published in January 2017. He won the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, which included publication of his chapbook, Loopholes. He has been the featured poet in Schuylkill Valley Journal. Publications include Apiary, Cheat River Review, Fox Chase Review, glimmertrain.com, Philadelphia Stories, Poetry Repairs, Rasputin, and The Rathalla Review. Kozinski was one of ten poets chosen by Robert Bly for a workshop sponsored by American Poetry Review. He serves on the boards of the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center in Philadelphia and The Philadelphia Writers’Conference. Kozinski lives in Wilmington, DE with his wife, actress and journalism teacher Patti Allis Mengers.
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