An Interview with Artist Sheryl A. Keen

By Anastasia Hare, SG Communications & Development Manager

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to view Sheryl A. Keen’s recent series of mixed-media works in State of Mind: Remixing & Deconstructing Beliefs on exhibition in Station Gallery’s Jill Dyall Community Gallery. I marvelled at the many textures that Sheryl incorporated into her work when it was included in SG’s group exhibition, Together We Rise last year. After seeing the new display, I reached out to ask her about the materials and ideas behind her beautiful works.

AH: I love the texture in your artwork, it draws me in to look closer at your images and how they’ve been constructed. What materials and layers do you integrate into your paintings to create these rich and varied textures?

SK: Thank you for saying this. Texture is a big deal in my work. It does draw people in which results in a lot of people wanting to touch the work and this is a good thing because I want people to connect with my art. The main material in my work is modeling paste which is very versatile because it allows me to add layers on top of layers. It really allows me to manipulate form and space.

I also incorporated found material that would traditionally have nothing to do with art. Texture is all around us and as an artist who loves texture, I tend to see it quite readily in the most unlikely places. For example, I have used an onion bag as a form of texture because I could see how interesting it would look before I used it. A lot of the texture developed through experimentation.

For me the space around the form on canvas is just as important as the form itself. That is the reason even the background is textured because the spaces have a relationship with everything else that is happening on the canvas.

AH: How would you describe the way you use these materials? Is it an intuitive play with forms and adding dimension to the works, or do these materials hold further meaning?

SK: There is always some amount of intuition that guides the process. It’s a feeling that comes with practice and comes with connecting to your inner being while creating. There is also some deliberateness entwined with intuition when I am thinking of the idea that I am trying to portray and how I am going to get the audience to connect with what I am trying to say.

The materials are meaningful in the texture, depth and form that they provide. Also, they are essential in the interrelationships that they create with each other on canvas.

AH: Speaking of interrelationships, the works in the current exhibition depict geometric shapes and abstract faces at different angles, some as though they’re interacting with one another. What are some of the ideas that you were thinking about while making these works? Are there any specific references that have influenced the way you’ve stylized your subject?

SK: For this exhibition I was thinking about beliefs and ideas and how they can either imprison us or give us freedom. The geometric shapes can represent different things like the ideas we hold, how they propel us forward or hold us back, how sometimes we need to remix what we think, get new ideas and expand as individuals. A lot of the titles of my work will also point to the story. For example, Can’t See the Forest for the Trees is about not being able to see beyond the beliefs that we hold.

As for specific references, I don’t know if this has any influence at all, but I am a fan of cubism and Picasso.

AH: As a writer as well as an artist, I wonder how your creative practices might overlap and also differ from one another. Could you share a bit about the similarities and differences in terms of your approach, creative process, and the ideas you explore?

SK: The similarities between the two are many. I use both to tell stories and paint pictures so to speak. A lot of my themes are the same for both especially themes that relate to an internal search or struggle. In fact, I have created artworks from the words of poems that I have written. Waiting in Vain is an example of this.

Another similarity is that both start off with an outline or a sketch to sort of guide the process and then the fleshing out is pretty fluid after that.

I think the difference is that my writing is edited a lot more than I would rearrange or change a piece of artwork during the process. This is probably because it would be a lot harder to change the artwork after it is modelled. So a lot of thought goes into the composition and arrangement of the artwork at the time when it is being sketched out.

I listen to a lot of music while painting and very little, or none at all while writing.

AH: It’s fascinating to hear that you’ve created artworks from your poems, working across text and image by putting your poetry into visual form. I’d be interested in reading the text alongside the image, and seeing how this might influence the experience of one or the other.

Thanks so much for the insight into your art and writing. It’s been inspirational!

Drop by Station Gallery to get inspired by Sheryl’s new work on view until March 18, 2018.

Image: Can’t See the Forest For the Trees, mixed media.

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