I am convinced that there is no accident in encounters as there is no accident in writing. As long as you don't write, as long as you don't overcome laziness, it's because the need is not strong enough yet, not suffocating enough, it's because the subject hasn't been fully encountered yet.
When I discovered Shannon's work, it was obvious: I had an urgent need to know who was behind these enigmatic paintings, between surrealism, idealism and disillusionment.
Our first contact was through the telephone, in order to arrange our Zoom meeting, both victims of the distance that separated us, she in Nashville, I in Mexico City. That first conversation lasted 40 minutes, during which it seemed to me that I was calling a long lost friend that always had been cooler than me. A kind of complicity, of gentleness, was established between us, two women without faces for each other. Only the voice guided us towards trust and understanding.
The appointment was thus made, two months later, by interposed screens, imposed by this modernity that only works half-heartedly: why didn’t it simply tackle the question of teleportation?
On Monday 30th of May, our conversation opened with news of each other, with confessions about love, long-distance love and the beauty of longing for the other: the beauty of staring for hours into the void not knowing what you have been thinking, yet knowing that those thoughts have been inspired by your heart and your far away love.
I had read interviews with Shannon before. Very frank, no sugar-coating, she notably talks about her breakdown which was a lifesaver and necessary for her.
In the introduction, I talked about the moment of encounter with one's subject. I'm going through a phase in my life where I'm finally worried about myself because I've hit a breakdown. A few days ago, I even thought I was experiencing it. Funny reflex, I thought: now I have to write about Shannon. My text was almost ready, ready to read, ready to eat, but it was written by reason, by head and under the yoke of the deadline. It was therefore to be discarded.
Let's start again: Shannon leaves for New York at 17, after being encouraged by the artist Lisa Yuskavage for her artistic talent, almost in spite of herself. She devours the Big Apple, full of ambitions and with her share of traumas she has taken with her.
She starts art projects, full of willpower and dreams, becomes by necessity the nanny for a famous artist / gallerist couple in New York and sees the life she would like to touch without really getting there. Then, to remind her of her dances and her dreams, drugs and her lost paradises intruded. Her career didn't take off, she found herself in a kind of fishbowl where, in addition to the pressure to create to sell, there was the added pressure of having a baby for a woman who was entering her thirties. One day, it became too much. By the time Shannon was sober, she couldn't take it anymore, her marriage was falling apart, she decided to leave New York.
"I don't think I had anything in the beginning. I had a couple of art shows, and I felt like there was a promising outlook if I just stayed on the path. Maybe just like anyone would, you know, grow in the art world. But because of the drug addiction, because of emotional sort of instability that comes with like maybe trauma or whatever that led to my drug addiction, I was defeated. And it wasn't just by New York, it was by unresolved emotional issues and childhood issues. And whatever it is right, that I just sort of pushed down until it all needed to explode. Whatever that defeat was, it wasn't that New York defeated me necessarily. I was a lot softer human compared to people with plans to find success. It was never my outlook on anything. In terms of life, mine was just sort of like, how do I feel in each situation, what feels real and authentic and what feels phony. Anytime something felt « phony »: it was not for me. I was not cut out for this yucky, gross phony world. That was continually my experience. Then the breakdown happened - thank God. »
So she leaves for Los Angeles, a new city, a new Shannon. Everything is ready: the workshop, the acquaintances there, a supposed mental space - and yet. Shannon can't do it, she just cries.
This episode is fascinating for me. It's interesting how you always try to place a breakdown in a specific space-time, like a second when everything has tumbled down, changed its face, reversed the direction of the earth. If that were the case, recovering from it should be instantaneous too. Falling down, all at once, and getting up again with a snap of the fingers. Everything is an instant. Maybe so, but everything is preparing for that moment, like a wall bending from the last drop too many.
It is interesting to see that a new start in one's initial idea is sometimes not enough - as if the change is not radical enough to be reborn. You really have to give up everything, make everything die, to really claim a second birth.
And where better to be born again than in the town where your life started?
Shannon returned to Nashville, the city of her childhood, of her recovered traumas and of her mother's house, where she decided to start over.
Embracing your second choice and the first one takes you back
Back at home, Shannon decided to study psychology, fast-tracked, which she had often thought about. She was 39 years old at the time.
These studies of psychology, in particular, blossomed in Shannon's mind because she had been raised by a schizophrenic father. This particularity, a childhood in which everything took on a different meaning with overwhelming logic, is as if she had adopted it in two ways: in her new studies and in her later work, in which a form of surreal normality can be distinguished.
So the studies pass by, like a caravan. One day, an emotional shock, a reconciliation with the past, makes Shannon start to paint:
"So making that first painting, it's like the floodgates open and I was sort of reconciling with my ex and it was a lot of emotions. I made like a painting a week for the next six months. They just flowed out of me. And all of a sudden, after realizing that I learned how to paint back then in college, I had ONE painting class, I thought: Why don't I just start painting? It's not like as an experienced painter, I just had learned enough to where now I can start exploring. I'm still not a great painter, honestly, like, I mess up all the time. »
Do we have to turn our backs on our destiny in order for it to come back on its own?
This painting, a fish in a bowl on a stove, seems to be an allegory of an inner drama. Of the woman, trapped in her macho role and obliged mother, of the artist who sees the life she would have liked to lead flash in front of her.
"And I was like, alright, I guess this is my new thing, a bit like a science experiment, you have to have the constants in order to have the variants. Painting is going to be the constant now and I'm just going to every idea that swimming through my head. I'm just going to fit it into painting and we'll see what happens. And I didn't think far ahead, I was just making art and be okay with myself not to be in the art world. I was okay with not being in New York. Now, the only thing that is important is to make good art, to exist in the world and to have integrity. (…) »
Thus the paintings are followed by the questions of others and the statements of oneself:
« I had no idea what to do with my paintings. But Instagram exists and I received validation. It is a totally different experience than when I lived in New York, we didn't have Instagram, we didn't have this sort of instant way of sharing with that many people. That gave me sort of this kind of fuel: people are responding, I'm going to keep painting. It wasn’t just for me, we want other people to see things. And then my identity was starting to come back. I had to tell myself, versus the psychologist role that I might be playing, that art could also be a service, a very important service if I'm authentic and if it's coming from a place of sincerity. (…) I used to be very shy but now, I am very confident about my paintings. The way I see things has changed tremendously. »
Indeed, from her experience, from almost a certain detachment from the art market, Shannon has adopted a very confident attitude towards herself and her work, which is undoubtedly the result of accepting herself and her sorrow. She then shared with me what I would like to call "the girl on the train anecdote".
"I was on the train in New York City, and I was reading a book by Pema Chau, « When things fall apart ». As I was reading the book, a woman started a conversation with me. I don’t remember the full conversation but this part, I will never forget. She said "self awareness kills art and creativity". It is like she had stabbed me in the gut by telling me something like that, because I was already convinced that art was not coming for me, that my life was over. She was saying that you were supposed to be a tortured soul to commit brilliant shit. And years later, for this type of work to come out, I always thought of that random, strange woman on the train saying that to me and thinking how wrong she was. I do believe you don’t have to be deep in some sorrow to make a painting about sorrow. These things can overlap and coexist. (…)
I think the fear always exists and it's always going to exist, grief exists, and will always exist. But we have the ability to also exist within a separate space in which you can see it happening. So the only difference is the maturity or the self-awareness that enables you to watch these things as they're happening. So automatically, that gives this kernel of fear, this kernel of sorrow or longing, the deep longing within us, regardless of it being a person, identity. We are all left with a deep spiritual hole. You get to see it while it's happening. So automatically, it doesn't have that grip on you, it doesn't mean it's ever gonna go away. So that's the difference. And I think that's what that woman could not have told me because obviously, she didn't experience that very thing. »
The acceptance of your pain, your sorrow deep inside can then be the key to art, thus creating two spaces: the one where you keep, where you cradle your deep feelings and the one where you express yourself, sometimes drawing from the former, in full awareness.
Shannon, in this new and accepted consciousness, thus received recognition through Instagram and as happiness (liberation?) never comes alone, her work was noticed and she presented her first exhibition at the Lubov Gallery in 2019.
I wondered then if it was a revenge, a war won against New York, a big city that has always scared me: too big, too money-oriented, too much iron, too much glass, too many smiles whose sincerity one doubts.
It's exciting how quickly you get an idea of what someone's attitude is, or at least should be. Disappointed by New York? Ego wins out, right? You want to crush the city like you felt crushed. That is not Shannon.
"Maybe on some level, it is revenge but it is proving not so much to other people -because that's sort of an anonymous other is not anyone specific, it's maybe proving to my old self that struggled for so long. Also, I might just be like that I enjoy challenge anyway, otherwise, I wouldn't paint; because painting is so fucking hard.(…) And concerning New York and my shows there, it is certainly where I put the most redemptive sort of energy into my work. New York is my home, I lived there since I was 17. I lived there for 17 years. That place shaped me. And I feel like the energy is what kind of work I am presenting, not so much to anyone in particular - even though there's probably a few of those with whom I want to be like: "Look at me, I've made it back ». It's not revenge though. It's redemptive. It's resurgence. »
The resurgence, the new birth, that which has been waiting for its moment to arrive and which is undoubtedly accompanied by a form of calming maturity and a more detached vision of the world.
« I know feel solid type of ground, which means anything around me that may or may not seem ridiculous or funny doesn't affect me anymore. I can create my own destiny. Regardless of anyone else's way of seeing, especially as we are in a capitalist, disgusting, capitalist world, I can choose how I'm going to engage with that, whether or not I'm going to engage with it. In other words, I just finally had a solid ground. And maybe that's just maturity. I mean, I'm in my mid 40s now. So maybe, it's not just the defeat and just the overcoming of all that, but it's also kind of growing up, having fear kind of shading »
In May, Shannon presented an exhibition at the Massimo de Carlo Gallery in Milan entitled "The secret ingredient is death" in homage to the mortuary elegance of Italy and her past experience, consciously apprehended, as the well of her inspiration.
Her upcoming show “Rubedo” opens in February 2023 at Night Gallery, Los Angeles.