Kahlon Family Services > Blog > Uncategorized > Interview with Melissa Shanley

Interview with Melissa Shanley

(1) Tell us a bit about the upcoming art show?
I am showing my most recent fiber sculptures and photographs at the SF Open Studios event. Through ArtSpan’s SF Open Studios, artists open their studios to the public. This way the public gets to interact with the artist without a filtering factor, like a gallery. The public gets to see where the work is created, get a feel for how the artist works and is influenced. People can also ask questions and, hopefully, feel supported in their curiosity about art.
(2) What inspires your artwork?
So many things. That is such a rich question.
What inspires the images is unique lines revealed by daily life. In my photography, it is usually something as simple as the worn edge of a beautifully unique, old doorway or rooftop which becomes a rich, sometimes abstract form in the photograph. I have learned to take my camera with me because I never know when an amazing anomaly of daily life will reveal itself to me. I know the photograph is a success when I hear the viewer laugh or question what they are looking at.
With my fiber sculpture, the inspiration is some form of the daily and simple beauty of life… like the undulation or color variation of a piece of fallen bark, for example. I need to create works in which the viewer can sense the tactile and structural composition without even touching it. And I am inspired by natural textures which create that sense.
I have also played with the concept of “nest” since the 1990s and everything from quail egg shells and miniature driftwood to shed cat whiskers and rooster feathers have inspired me and found their way into my sculptures. I have studied and struggled with the concept of line, rather than image, for all those years, and that struggle continues to provide me with rich work and inspiration, as well.
On an emotional level, what inspires me is a relaxed state in which I am fed by ample time to work with my images. The last several years, that state had been eroded to non-existence. I didn’t realize how crucial it was until I started to regain it. The work Vanessa Kahlon and her team has done with Ian and our a family has restored us to balance. Ian feels safe and is more calmly interactive than I have ever seen him before. His laughter is abundant and infectious. As a result of all this, my husband and I have a deeper relationship again and I have time and energy for my artwork.
A bonus and unexpected inspiration of what I just described has been a new connection between Ian and I. Ian has always known my artwork feeds me and would occasionally encourage me to go to my studio, but with my gas tank on empty, I had nothing to fuel me in there.
Now, we intuitively seem to feed each other’s creativity. He sees me go into what he calls a “camera coma” when I begin photographing something which spontaneously grabs me. He will grab a camera and happily begin his own coma. He has an eye for light and line and design. He even will prompt me to grab my camera when I am distracted by a daily duty and point me to an unusual and interesting form.
Some of our images are almost indistinguishable from each other. I will have a couple of those on display, side-by-side, at the Open Studio for those of you interested in seeing the results of a calm internal state with a unique kid who who is thriving. Ian will be at the studio from about 11-12 Saturday and Sunday to show his work with mine. He’s excited about it and is even the one who suggested it. Thank you, Vanessa!
(3) Whose art inspires you?
Artists who have struggled with and explored the concept of line have inspired me. Auguste Rodin and Georgia O’Keeffe are the two most important to me. When I feel I am occasionally not succeeding in creating the line or form I am striving for, I think of them and the richness of the forms they created.
Andy Goldsworthy, the environmental sculptor and photographer, also inspires me. Using natural materials such as stones, leaves and flower petals, he transforms nature into sculpture. His work reminds me that anything can be interesting, beautiful and worth working with– that anything can be presented from a slightly different perspective and attract the viewer to the beauty and power which was always there, unnoticed.
(4) When you make art, what are the perfect conditions for your studio space?
The perfect conditions include a calm belief in and awareness of myself. When I have that, it doesn’t matter if the studio is a mess or if other people are having challenges: I can take the next steps necessary to create the work which needs me to create it. The important thing is for me to almost constantly feed that calm awareness of myself and my work. Sometimes I do that by working on and editing pieces I am already familiar with and sometimes by connecting with people who know me well and believe in me and my work. I have come to understand that I have to create artwork in order to stay sane and balanced. And I have to do whatever it takes to make that happen because if I don’t, I am not whole and happy and, therefore, not helpful to those around me who need me.
(5) What advice can you give to other parents who enjoy making art with their kids?
I am not very good with advice, but I can share what works for me in hopes that it helps someone else… When I feed myself emotionally, then I can do the artwork I have to create to stay balanced and that, in turn, opens doors to connections (and art) with others. Just today, for example, after taking about an hour to do my work, I bounced out into the car to have a playful– and artful– afternoon with my family. My husband made a comment to everyone that I was so happy and fun to be with because I had been working. I love that it is so obvious. Working allows more work, allows flow and fun with family and others, allows art and connection with my child and even my husband.
People had been telling me for years to focus on myself and my artwork. At the time, I didn’t believe there was time or space for my work. Now I know there is no time or space for me not to work. My child, his connection with me, as well as the artwork we do together, depends on it.
I would encourage people to work with Vanessa and her team to get the family in balance, then find what feeds you and do that twice as much as you think you should– then watch the art happen with your child as a result.

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