Art educator, art director and curator Shannon Browne is changing things up at Artemis Gallery this year. For the first time since graduating from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 1987, she’s taking a chunk of time and turning her attention to her own creative process. Her art gallery will be just as much art studio, as Shannon experiments with symbols, themes in nature and the cycle of the year. An interdisciplinary artist, she plans to use this year in the gallery as her playpen – exploring archetypes, dream images, meaning and process. I had the chance to interview Shannon and hear more about her plans.
Susan: Something different is going on at Artemis Gallery. Can you tell us what’s happening?
Shannon: When I first established Artemis it was always with the idea of it being a studio, gallery and event place. The gallery part happened almost spontaneously. It quickly became a very busy exhibiting place. We’ve been showing almost non-stop these past three years, with lots of events booked in the space as well. Other artists have been successfully utilizing the gallery as a studio for teaching classes, and I’ve helped to facilitate quite a number of workshops. The thing that has not been happening in the studio, is my own art-making. Frankly, it’s hard to recall ever having much time to make my own art. Like most people, I’ve been busy – most recently as curator, director and every other role at Artemis. It’s been great (!) but it’s time for me to set some time aside to create in the space myself. It will still be a shared space, but I’m taking an opportunity to give my own work a shot now.
Susan: Do people know you as an artist?
Shannon: It’s funny. People from different parts of your life know you as such diverse entities. I don’t think the artists who teach here or their students are aware of either my art-making or art-teaching background. People who know me socially have seen some of my art in my home, and they may be aware of things I’ve designed or created, but it’s impossible for them to know ‘what’ I was doing all the years I was teaching, which was an intensely creative time for me. The documentation of that work really shows ‘what’ I do, but very few people have ever seen that documentation. And people who know me only as director and curator at Artemis, would not expect that I’m also an artist. I’m probably seen as this middle aged lady who came out of nowhere to open a gallery. And that is also true…
Susan: Do you have a sense of the kind of media you are going to be working with?
Shannon: Well, I graduated in Interdisciplinary Studies from Emily Carr, so I’m jack of all trades – master of none, and probably one reason why I was a such good teacher. For me, it’s always been about choosing the materials that will best convey my ideas, and the connections I’m trying to make, which carries through to what I’ll be doing this year. One of my first loves was printmaking. I prefer a process-based way of working, so there’s bound to be a printmaking element in some of the work I’ll be doing this year. Not in a formal way, but it will be there. I’ve taken thousands of photographs that show my fascination with plant-life and all things mythical/symbolic, and some of these will find their way into the work as well. In a tongue-in-cheek way, I’ve told people I may start making art by just playing around with sticks in the studio, and ironically, I am playing around with sticks right now. I built a nest a couple weeks ago. Anyway, my plan is to loosely follow the cycle of a full year, and really pay attention to my inner & outer world. If I tether myself to that, it should lead me to play with a range of diverse materials and various aspects of nature. Right now, I’m drawn to roots and sticks, and bare trees in watery places.
Susan: You’ve talked about the cycle of the year and playing with sticks. What other kinds of themes do you think you’ll be exploring?
Shannon: Back to the conceptual thing – for as long as I can remember I’ve made connections between the things I observe and sense in my waking-world, and whatever is informing me from my dreaming-world. I’m beginning work on a project I’ve had in mind for over 20 years, but I will definitely take a detour should I get a big ‘whack’ of an image in a dream…and ‘dream’ isn’t really the best way to describe these experiences. These are more like vivid static images that take up my whole field of vision and make a huge impression on me, leaving me feeling that they need to be explored. Recently, one was an image of a nest, lined with peacock feathers, but not built by any bird. So now, I’m following my impulse to complete a physical version of that nest, which will take precedence until I can stand back and look at it. This may all sound a little “out there”, but it’s a major part of how my concepts are formed and where ultimately I’m led to find meaningful connections. And, the symbolism of this “nest” is so rich – a place of incubation & nurturing. It’s an obvious metaphor for the this time I’m setting aside and studio at Artemis, but it also has many layers of meaning for my personal life as well. I try to follow these symbols when they appear – even when they take me away from what I’d thought I’d be working on.
Susan: As we follow your progress over the course of the year, what can people expect to see at Artemis? You’ve talked about art exhibits – about events and a community place. What else can the general public expect to see from Artemis this year?
Shannon: Several wonderful artists teach classes at Artemis, and these are ongoing. That’s part of what the public will see – that there’s activity here. People will also see aspects of what I’m working on and the way I’m working on it. I tend to make test plates and collections of things that will become part of the larger ‘something’ down the road. I don’t feel the need to have everything under wraps and sequestered. It should be fine to have it up and around as it evolves. The space will be less the formal gallery that people have come to know – it will feel more like a studio. That said, there will still be an occasional influx of work by other artists – ideally work that fits the spirit of a particular time of year, and by that I don’t mean beach scenes for summer and holly for winter. It will need to complement the ideas I’ll be working with and hopefully tie in with whatever part of the Wheel of the Year we’re on. People are probably going to scratch their heads a lot because there won’t be the usual promotion or opening nights for specific exhibitions. The experience will come from a very different place: an organic springing up, blossoming, then withering kind of thing – as work comes and goes, and things “morph” in here throughout the year.
Susan: Do you have an artist’s statement?
Shannon: No, not really. I’m not crazy about artist’s statements. To understand what I’m doing, one just needs to know that the ‘concept’ is the most important thing for me. A dedicated painter or a sculptor, for instance, might begin a piece by considering what next to create with the materials they’ve mastered. I, on the other hand, begin by imagining which materials & images might help visually connect ‘the dots’ of things I feel are somehow related. This esthetic also influences the way I select the work of other artists for exhibitions at Artemis – my objective being that every piece in a show contributes to an overall concept or creates a distinct environment in the gallery.
Susan: Which will continue in your own work this year?
Shannon: Very much. All of the elements I plan to work with are inter-related and extremely meaningful to me. Hopefully the work will resonate with people – not just the recognizable themes, but the “in-between stuff” as well.
Shannon: Sure. It may not be by the end of this calendar year. In a way, ‘the show’ will be what’s up when you come into Artemis. Some objects in the studio will be what I’m actually working on, but other objects will be there as touchstones for the way I’m thinking – what I’m formulating; things that feed my soul. For instance, there’s a root mass hanging in the studio right now, which on some level relates to my work on the nest that I mentioned earlier. It’s to do with this time of year; contemplating things dormant, empty or hidden. There’s also an old fashioned light bulb involved…
Susan: So, in conclusion, if I were to say to you, “Shannon, what are you doing?” how would you answer?
Shannon: I would say “I don’t know” and that “I’m asking the Gods for assistance”! That’s a little disingenuous… I don’t know what I’m doing in a logical, linear way. I do know that I’m giving myself permission to respond to and remember things, in a way that I haven’t before. I’m so very grateful for the way creativity has manifested throughout my life, but until now there hasn’t been an opportunity for me to nurture these ideas purely for their own sake. That’s what this year is going to be.
Susan Robertson is a friend and blogger who will be following Shannon’s work at Artemis.