Artist Q&A: Sheila Kernan
After an experience, you begin to rely on the memory of it. The passage of time is like the game ‘Telephone’, memories evolve and shift, imagination takes root supplying and omitting small details, until, over time our initial experience changes to become something entirely unexpected. So, our experiences and memories are ephemeral, constantly evolving. I find that concept incredibly interesting and very inspiring.
In my practice, I have always played with combining imagination, experience, and memory. Photographs of my well-documented travels help to create a level of accuracy in depicting specific places. Yet, I choose to combine source images taken from singular or multiple references to create an imagined landscape. My compositions are never actually situated, rather they capture a feeling of a place or an amalgam of spaces.
I further add to this by adding in sketches or manipulating the compositions to enable the creation of paintings that evoke my initial experience of a place. The title ‘Forever is a Feeling’ encapsulates my current hopes and desires to hold onto precious moments. My paintings become the most permanent and lasting part of the experience and memory because they will never change.
2. Which artistic sources do you draw inspiration from and how has exposure to their work influenced your practice?
I am drawn to so many different artistic sources, I have always loved the soft edges, vast simplistic shapes and vibrating nature of Rothko’s work. I appreciate artists skilled at incorporating texture into their work in really sophisticated manners, with real depths of meaning, John Hartman, Donald Martiny, and Kim Dorland are a few I admire.
Life and everyday experiences are the most prominent in my practice. Oftentimes I’ll take notice of how the sun strikes a tree or building in a certain way when out for a walk. I will be driving and find myself pulling over because our skies are creating a conversation between drama and softness that I must observe.
Fashion, cinema, and design are three areas that particularly excite me. They always provide me with new resources to draw upon and explore. They create puzzles for me to solve in terms of how to incorporate new ideas, materials, and techniques into my practice. It’s really exciting. I am always thinking about and cultivating new ideas. Some become immediately apparent in my work and others take years to digest before they start becoming part of my aesthetic.
3. Your process involves a wide array of techniques and media (washes, airbrush, spray paint and hand-cut stencils, to name a few). Which is the latest to make its way into your painting lexicon and what qualities in these materials draws you to them?
I have been really interested in dry brushing techniques within the stencils I create, adding, scrubbing, and removing layers of paint. As I am writing this I realize that this concept plays into the title of the show and the idea of permanence and how memories are subject to change. Aesthetically I am drawn to this because it is subtle it tones down the harsh edges of the stencils, it adds more depth to the layers and also a richness to the flat shapes I am highlighting.
4. Are any new application methods, formal elements or ongoing experimentations present in these paintings? What are you eager to explore next?
Yes, I am always working on something new, revisiting past processes or techniques that I have not used in a while. Creating new techniques. Combining old ideas and new ideas. Changing them into something new and exciting. I am incredibly curious by nature and I am always asking what if? I love pushing paint into untraditional outcomes. Seeing how I can push materials capabilities to new limits. Isolating resin is a great example of some recent explorations of mine that I am testing out. My approach is quite scientific in this manner. My studio is my test kitchen. I often have lots of mini samples on the go. Playing with transparency, techniques, textures, additives, etc. It is lots of fun. My work may appear to be spontaneous but it's really not. I spend a lot of time perfecting the application of each layer. My work is quite layered, each piece having 5-10 layers of paint. There is a lot of curing time in-between layers. Which is why I usually have a few pieces on the go at any given time. So I allow the pieces to rest when they need to. The most intuitive and unplanned part of my process is the final textural components. This is the time where I finish my piece's colour relationships, highlight and subdue shapes, create a rhythm for the viewers and finalize the feeling I hope to capture. Playing with new subjects, new colours, and new textures. This keeps the work exciting and fresh for others and myself.
5. What specific locations, lived experiences, or memories inform the constructed spaces of your work and how is it then mediated by imagination? How do source images, photo references, collages, and sketches factor into this conceptualization?
For this collection, I looked to a few different hiking experiences I have had over the years in the Canadian mountains. Two specific locations that come to mind are a helicopter hiking trip I did in the Bugaboos, a few favourite spots in Kananaskis, my experiences in both BC and Alberta mountain ranges and forests. Each experience is photographed. I then physically print out 1000’s of photos and go through them looking for connections. I cut up and tape together photos creating a collage and a starting off point for my work. Often, I will incorporate sketches from my memory of an experience or just my imagination and add them into the collage. After I create the collage I make large scale sketches to further refine the composition of the painting. While creating I am often flooded with memories from a particular hike. (When I encountered a grizzly bear with my 6 month old son, when we were stuck in a torrential downpour at Rawson lake sliding down the path, when happenstance took me to the most cinematic to perfect to be real windy road in San Francisco with the perfect amount of sunlight hitting the road and early morning fog still present on the trees behind) I revisit feelings associated with them while creating the painting and my feelings and ideas about the places and experiences set the mood for my pieces. So everything all comes together within my constructed spaces, imagined places, ideas, memory, experiences collide.
6. How has your practice developed into the distinctive style and palette you work with today?
I have always been interested in interdisciplinary processes methods and techniques. Everything I am interested in from painting, sewing, design, sculpture, crafts, different styles, subjects, and their methodologies inform my work today.
Subjects, methods, and techniques I have been thinking about or had explored for a brief moment in the past may take years to manifest in my work. It’s an intuitive process and some things take years to emerge whilst others are more immediate.
In the past, my subjects were often photorealistic and only later did my work shift to photography, silk screening, glass blowing, bronze casting, and painting. I found myself more drawn to conceptualism and experiences rather than highly accurate depictions. With painting, I feel that all the combined components of my interdisciplinary experiences and found their way into one form. I really just love experimentation.
7. You had previously mentioned an interest in capturing the play of light in your compositions, what other formal considerations draw you to your subject matter?
Perspective, Colour, shapes, texture. I really love the small scale, often-overlooked elements, when painted in a large-scale format it can seem more monolithic than the mountain range. I love the quirky trees, and gnarly rocks, unexpected colours in the cracks and crevices of rocks. You really have to pay attention to find elements to paint that are unique and different. I am trying to create work that captures one's attention for more than a few moments. I think they are successful at capturing attention because of all the formal elements and layers. Each time you look at my paintings you can see something new. Hard edges, a soft edge, the suggestion of a form. All these formal elements are vital to create the context for the pieces.
8. What role do narrative frameworks play in your practice and in the viewing of the work?
In the end, a painting has to stand on its own merits, take the artists’ intentions and subtexts out and they have to work on their own aesthetically. That is why I love the ambiguity of my subjects. They are never really actual places, rather they are suggestions of places. They are neither abstract nor realistic. Not all the information is given and so the viewer is asked to fill in the gaps, to lend their own interpretation and experiences to the pieces, allowing the works to take on new and richer depths of meaning.