Wednesday, May 2, 2018

New Work by Shawna Gilmore Catches My Eye and Sparks an Interview

I can't recall where I first noticed Shawna Gilmore's distinctive paintings. It may have been at the Kruk Gallery in Superior, or maybe not. Perhaps it was Art on the Planet, or not. Last summer her Woodlandia show at Lakeside Gallery proved utterly delightful, and Aaron Kloss has continued to carry some of her upbeat work to this day. During Wendy Clouse's exhibition at Lizzard's this past month I noticed that Jeff there had taken in some of her work, and I also noticed she was moving into some new kinds of dimensions. Same spirit, new designs... always fun.

As a result I reached out and ask if I might share a little more about this Northland painter who has been capturing a lot of attention.

EN: I see that you now have some of your work at Lizzard’s. How did that come about?

Shawna Gilmore: I've wanted to have my work in Lizzards since I first visited there as a college student many moons ago. Over the years, I had checked in with them and they were too short on space to take me on. I had a few Chameleon paintings remaining from my winter show and decided to float these by them. I think the timing was right this time. That's how the art world is, you really have to put your time in and just keep trying. There are so many reasons a gallery might not take you on. . .  sometimes it is a space issue, sometimes your work doesn't fit their style or it's the wrong timing, and sometimes your work needs to mature. It's really important not to take it personally or it can paralyze you.

EN: What does your painting regimen look like? Do you have set hours each day or is it a muse-driven affair? How many hours a week are you in the studio?

SG: Painting is my full time profession. I dress for my work. I have set hours. I limit distractions(including my husband who works from home as well). And I treat it with the seriousness I would if I worked for someone else. I don't have time to sit around waiting for a muse. I've learned that by daily exercising creative muscles, you rarely have to wait for the "muse". Actually, I've found I have the opposite problem. . . .I have more ideas than I could ever paint in a lifetime. They aren't all good ideas, but they just keep coming.

EN: Do you listen to music while you paint? Or… ? If yes, what kind of music do you paint to?

SG: I tend to listen to music when I have to focus on business-y stuff like working on the website, responding to emails or anything that requires me to use words. In those times I need wordless, atmospheric or classical music to really declutter my mind. Weirdly, I find music boring and exhausting while I paint. Painting requires a different part of my brain I suppose. I listen to lots of podcasts, audiobooks or have Netflix going in the background. I wish I could even say the stories I have going are directly reflected in my work, but usually I enjoy crime dramas or science fiction action/thrillers. I'm sure there's an Oliver Sacks theory on why that might be, but I just know a good story energizes me and activates my brain.

EN: How long have you been painting professionally?

SG: I've been professionally painting since 2010. Before that it was more of a hobby and I would paint in the evenings after the kids were asleep.

EN: The whimsical nature of your work seems like it would lend itself to picture book illustration. Have you ever considered that kind of avenue? Do you draw your ideas from children’s picture books?

SG: I have and it was something I was seriously considering over the years. But as I looked into it more and as I've gotten more busy with galleries, etc, I just don't have the time to apply myself to pursuing the illustration field. Financially it doesn't make sense for me to sacrifice time away from my main job right now. You have to be careful to not get derailed and not to spread yourself a mile wide and an inch deep. Perhaps down the line. I'm open to it at some point, but thankfully I have more than enough to focus on at the moment.

I pull my ideas from a lifetime of loving stories. Very rarely are they direct references to any one story. Most often they are culmination of different threads that are subliminally working themselves out in my paintings.

EN: You mentioned having an over-active imagination. How do you decide which of your many ideas to pursue next?

SG: Sifting through the ideas to find one that has staying power is my greatest challenge. Some ideas, just from past experience, are obvious solid ones, but some are more risky. I try to stay playful. . .to not get caught up in fear of failure. We all have the natural desire for safety, comfort and predictability. . . essentially avoiding fear or pain. But if you're not failing and learning, you're not growing as a person and that's a stagnation more risky than failure. I'm not interested in things I already know. I want to learn. I want to be challenged. I want to stitch together new understanding with old. I want to find the nugget of discovery about myself or humanity or this beautiful world. To jump over the hurdle of fear, I remind myself that I can always paint over it if in fact I'm not able to execute it in a satisfying way. Ideas don't always come to me fully formed either. Sometimes they are more of a seed, but with age or experience or developing skills sometimes those seeds from years ago become a viable series.

EN: What are you working on now?

SG: I have some Chameleon paintings I'm busily finishing for a small June showing at Gallery 360 in Minneapolis. I just sent a bunch of work up to The Big Lake store opening in Grand Marais in May. I also just sent some work out to Coastal Contemporary Gallery in Rhode Island that I recently connected with. It's an exciting time. :)

EN: I see your work at Lizzard’s, Art on the Planet and Lakeside Gallery. Anywhere else in town?

SG: I have a rotating selection of work at Amity Coffee as well as a collection of paintings and prints at Makers Mercantile in West Duluth.

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To see and purchase more of Shawna's work, visit

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

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