Recapturing the Oddness of Beauty

By Shasta Grant

When I am walking in the woods, observing a sunset, or standing face to face with an animal, I am sometimes struck by how ordinary moments can also be extra-ordinary or even surreal. Watching nature closely in all its three-dimensional glory is awe-inspiring. From early in childhood I resorted to visual art to express my appreciation for all the strange beauty around me. Eventually, I learned the lesson of the expressionists: though nature itself can appear surreal, painting the world exactly as it looks won’t convey the same experience or emotion. Manipulating colour to defy the viewer’s expectations is the best way I know to communicate my personal experiences.

Visual inspiration abounds, but I gravitate to animals. Big, gentle creatures such as cows, expressing their unsentimental but unique nature are always a source of inspiration. I often work from photos I have taken and digitally manipulate the colour and saturation on my computer screen to create combinations which are both odd and attractive. I routinely limit my palette, intentionally excluding one or two basic colours. Photo editing software allows me to experiment with how colour behaves in different lighting. I use it to isolate any point of a photograph, and love the shock of learning that a colour is often much deeper than I thought it was. The next step is to translate the altered image to the canvas.

Choosing from my collection of canvases in my home studio, I decide whether my subject belongs on a big or small surface. I begin by under-painting the canvas with a colour that will complement or contrast the colours in the piece. Then, since I do not have the attention span or patience to complete a detailed and accurate drawing before I apply the paint, I dive in with diluted paint and begin marking in the abstract shapes that make up the form after just a few pencil scratches. Acrylic paint is very forgiving, allowing me to blot out and redefine shapes as needed. I take great pleasure in this messy stage of “unearthing” the subject with dark and medium shades, using reckless strokes and no definition. This work is as much a technical exercise in creating balance and symmetry as it is an expression of inspiration.

I then work to bring out the medium and light colours, tightening the detail in sections I want to draw attention to. Sometimes this is straightforward; sometimes it takes many frustrating attempts. If all has gone well, I will have established the correct lines and shapes and developed a colour and light scheme that I find exciting, resulting in a unique rendering of my subject. There is always tension around deciding when a piece is finished. Usually, there is a sense of diminishing returns and each brushstroke has less impact than the one before. It is often at these times that my husband wanders in and says, “That’s done, right?” And so it is. I don’t intend the viewer to respond in any particular way, but hope that my re-interpretation of familiar subjects will remind them of the sense of awe we can all experience when we take a moment to look closely at the world around us.

Shasta’s art is currently on display at Centre Stage Theatre until the end of the month, and prints of her paintings can be purchased at Anatolia in New Minas and Edible Art Cafe in Greenwich. Visit shastagrant.ca for more info.

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