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Meet Shelley Whiting

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shelley Whiting.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I first started out wanting to be a writer. I read Selma Lagerlöf as a precocious and nerdy kid. I was hoping to be the next Nobel Prize winner in literature. But in time I realized that all my stories focused on descriptions of their landscapes.

I eventually quit writing to focus on the visual side of things completely. Yet I think there is still a narrative element tomy work. I started drawing at twelve to imitate my brother who was an artist. However, as I continued drawing, I realized I wasn’t good at drawing realistically. During my sophomore year in high school I had a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. I was inspired by the celebrity caricatures in their magazines. I decided I could learn to distort people. I taught myself how to elongate and distort faces angularly.

I became frustrated with my art as I entered into my mid 20’s in ASU’s art school. I couldn’t concentrate and I was ruining probably 19 out of 20 of my artworks. I wouldn’t say I quit but I was on the breaking point of doing so. I realized a few years later that I struggled with manic depression. This impaired my concentration and ability to make sound artistic decisions. After my breakdown and medication, I was able to do art again. My work had a lot more feeling. I would certainly say that the pain and experience made me a richer human being with more depth, which then crept into my artworks.

One of the best things to ever to happen to my art was I joined PSA Art Awakenings which gave me more self-confidence and helped me feel that I was part of a community. I also started showing my art again after my solo show there and started to show in various galleries, which I do to this day.

Please tell us about your art.
As an introverted person I am blessed with a lot of rich and complicated ideas. For a long time, it was a curse. I am in my head all day long, why would I want to paint that? I often have a knotted stomach and art is the only thing that can stabilize me. My mother realized as a teenager that if she gave me art supplies I would be less emotional and throw less tantrums.

My work to a certain extent will always first be about my mental health. As I go through the motions so does my artwork. Some people have commented as a person I am cheery but also dark. I remember one person commenting that they liked the darker pictures better than the goofy ones. But as a person with manic depression most of the time I can’t control that. Every day, every hour can be a challenge. I have to do art as my emotions lead me. Years ago, I started to paint about Mormonism. I am more of a cultural Mormon, a Mormon who doesn’t adhere to the doctrines a 100% and goes to church for social reasons. Yet I cannot deny that the culture is a huge part of my heart. A lot of my art involves spirit babies.

As Mormons we learn that we were spirit children before we were born. I was taught this at church every Sunday for as long as I have lived. It’s weird but I honestly believe in a huge world of spirit babies. Growing up in the church we have these really old-fashioned artworks. For fun one day I did a painting of some old men in pajamas with the planets behind them. My brother was like “This is weird religious art. You’re not looking to convert people. You’re just painting spirituality and that’s it.” I want people to rethink spirituality. I did a painting called Over saved. The painting series was about how religion is overdone. The painting is a caricature of an alleged photo of Joseph Smith with water being dunked on him and spirit babies assisting to dunk him.

Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
I don’t think that there are enough methods for artists to expose their work to their peers and potential clients. Some very good artists get into galleries. Some don’t’ though. Over the last year and a half, I have dedicated myself to a local arts blog Arizona Artist a Day and Arizona Artist a Day 2. Some artist doesn’t think they’re good enough. I remember after showing an artist he got so much positive reception from Facebook he said he was going to continue to do his drawing.

I really admire my friend Ione Shaar. She started the “Central Arts District Blog”. She would introduce herself to artists on First Friday and interview them in her blog. I really admired for the work she was doing. I realized First Friday only shows a handful of artists. I thought someone should make a blog displaying a lot more than twenty artist. I came up with the idea of an artist a day. I emailed artists mainly through Facebook, but sometimes Behance and personal artist websites. I did this all last year and decided to do part two this year. Last year I think I showed more people who are big in Phoenix. Now I have a lot of funky independent type of art.

Brandon Huigen, Chris Czaja and Ryn Gargulinski are great examples of some fun artists I have shown. I wish I could name more of the artists on my blog. I love all the artists on my blog and it means a lot to me. I have benefited a lot through this blog. I can’t tell the number of times I’ve seen a painting on the wall and I already know who did it. Whenever I can I go to the artists’ shows to meet them. I’ve met fantastic people. I start every day publishing a different artist. It starts my day positively and I like the fact that I show a different type of artist every day. I think this is what really mixes it up. I could show an abstract artist one day and a surreal ceramic artists the next. My favorite part of my blog is when all the artists’ friends and family comment on their artwork. I love reading someone congratulating their son. It’s exciting to me to be part of someone’s moment where their work gets sent out into the world. The blog effects my artwork, because now I am familiar with all the trends happening around the valley. www.arizonaarrtistaday.blogspot.com last year

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I had my first group show when I was 19. It was at the Paper Heart. I remembered being quickly overwhelmed. I had unrealistic expectations. I soon realized that being an artist means showing your work very often and building a reputation throughout the years. It was a huge reality check for me.

The best exhibitions I have had were my solo shows at Warehouse 1005, a program of Art Awakenings. I had the artistic freedom to do whatever I wanted. I could do these really funky Mormon paintings. There was a fellow artist that said “Don’t give me a Book of Mormon.” I don’t make art to convert people. The paintings are to tell my own artistic intake of the religion. I remember one show I did called Apotheosis. It was about how in Mormonism we come become gods in the next life. I painted old people in togas running around in a Botticelli landscape. The guy who ran the program painted the walls behind it. The exhibit really popped and had an excellent presentation.
Also I did another room covered with circles. The exhibit “Eye of God” had circles representing eyes. There were like 30 circles surrounding the room. It was awesome.

My biggest success was when got I accepted for a solo exhibit by the Phoenix Public Library. I did a bunch of paintings with ten thousand people inspired by Roman art. I tend to do better in spaces where my art can breathe a bit and people can walk around and observe, then read the artist statement. I remember receiving a lot of Facebook messages from fellow artists about the show. I also have to give credit to the patrons that have supported me throughout the years too. My patrons allow me to do my funky artworks and give me the momentum to continue what I’m doing with complete freedom as well.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal Photo taken by Andres Gonzalez

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Schultzie Mock

    July 13, 2018 at 3:59 am

    Shelley
    I am so impressed with your work.
    I have been their when you were young also and it was good but you have grown with your art
    I am so proud of you.
    Schultzie

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