Next in The Morning Drum’s Womenfolk Series is a profile on talented and inspiring artist, Meaghan Shelton. Based on the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland, she is first a painter, but also works in sculpture, drawing and photography, among other things.
Without labelling her work as surreal, for me, it has an ethereal and dreamlike quality to it. We chatted last week about her life, her work and her influences.
Can you start by describing your average day?
My average day…oh how I wish there was one! My painting days are Saturday through to Tuesday, Wednesday also if I’m lucky. On those days I often have to set my mind to ignore all the other nagging things like the washing and the weeds to prioritise. Painting comes first, over everything…or at least it should. I am always having to say ‘no’ to people, I rarely, if ever, have spare time. As they say ‘the life so short, the craft so long to learn’. There are many, many behind the scenes things an artist must do in a contemporary world to keep themselves ‘out there’. You never bargain for the amount of administration required.
When did you start painting, and what prompted you to start?
Often the act of painting is misconstrued as that which makes One an artist. For me, I have memories and experiences as early as four, that I recognise as myself as artist. What prompts me is my nature, it is in my nature, it’s what I need to do to make sense of the world around me. I painted at that age and have always been engaged in some kind of creative activity. I am a multi-disciplinary artist whose first and foremost medium is painting.
Your work looks to have a Surrealist quality to it. Would you agree? If not, how would you describe it?
The term Surrealism has been co-opted by popular culture and seems to serve to mean, in its watered down form, anything other than photo realism. I am asked now and then if my work is Surreal, to which I usually reply no, I do not adhere to any particular style. It is the framework of ideas in which I situate my work that influences how I work. I prefer Real-Surreal because my paintings are not about about dreams they are about how I perceive the world. Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, said a similar thing when The Surrealists wanted to claim her as their own.
Who are your major influences (this doesn’t have to be just about your creative life)?
Wow that is a really big question! At a very grass roots level I would have to say my Father who has always encouraged free thinking with an analytical edge and my Mother who instilled in me from a very early age that if you can think it, you can make it. My life and my art (creativity) are inextricably linked. Music has always been a profound influence, music and painting come from the same place. Books…I read Jack
London’s ‘Call of the Wild’ by torch-light under the covers at eight whilst recovering from having my tonsils out, an excellent consolation it was too! Germaine Greer’s ‘The Mad Woman’s Underclothes’ changed everything for me at 16, I was bullied throughout secondary school and had become quite insular, she gave me back to myself. Later, at art school, Australian artists such as Vera Moeller, Rosslynd Piggott, and Greg Moncrieff led by example. The most influential however is the nature of things, nature herself really.
I’ve seen that you work with other mediums, but the work you produce has a similar quality to your paintings. Is there something that drives this – something that you are trying to capture, which emerges in all your work?
I am undertaking my Master of Fine Art Research at QUT presently and it is this relationship between the two and three dimensional in my work on which my practice-led research is partly based. I am using the dialogue that arises when the two are juxtaposed, to investigate the gaps in history where women’s stories and experiences have been overlooked or omitted. I purposefully engage in painting for its loaded history and choose materials associated with women’s work and the domestic for my sculptures. This allows me to relocate stories and experiences that arise from the everyday and return them to the sacred and profound. It is a means to analyse the way we are conditioned to look at things.
Of all your pieces, which one are you most proud of?
Uncertain Landscape from 2009 was painted at the beginning of the GFC, it comes from the body of work from the same title. I was really struggling financially then and the doom and gloom of the time made me question if I even wanted to be an artist, so I tried not to be. It didn’t work, I felt miserable, like a bird lost underwater. This metaphor came to me as where I was living at the time had a beautiful waterhole at the bottom of the garden which I could see from the living room which was my studio. I would observe all kinds of birds, even those we don’t associate with being water birds using the water in various ways for their survival. This painting depicts the Blue Bird of Happiness in a deconstructed landscape, parts of which are upside down. You can see the waterhole. Sometimes losing your footing can be the best thing that can happen.
What barriers do you face in trying to stay true to your creative self? And how do you overcome them?
Its always apparent when an artist’s work is derivative. I think doing the hard yards, digging that bit deeper into your own oeuvre is important, every person has their own well spring. My biggest barrier is that I have too many ideas and they are all jostling to be let out first, like children not wanting to miss out! It’s all Me! Me! Me! I overcome this by working through them. Giving each idea some attention until there is only one which lingers.
If you could offer one piece of advice to someone seeking a creative life, but feels held back (for what ever reason) what would you say?
I would ask ‘How badly do you want it?’
If you would like to know more about Meaghan’s work, you can visit her website: www.meaghanshelton.com.au