Artist Interview | Published Dec. 2022
"Grief, a response to loss, doesn't diminish over time. After the acute stage, chronic grief permeates our breathing. To be still in the falling pain, we struggle. We attempt to manage and live in a reality absent a loved one, a perennial search for purpose and meaning requiring movement. It’s immersive. And it manifests differently for everyone. Dissolution, in part, is motion, my practice in constructing meaning out of loss.
I began creating the paintings for this exhibit long before my anticipated loss, changing the name and the storytelling of Dissolution's final form as the loss transpired. The works symbolize pieces of me in a storyline of love and pain. They are fragments of grief personified. Memories conflated from a life once lived, a life in dissolution.
It has been a challenge to articulate here what the art is expressing. I could not achieve this with oil paintings alone even. I've become an unexpected storyteller, of sorts. Experiential pieces support the narrative of what (I think) this body of work is incapable of conveying. These additions assist in descending the viewer into melancholy, languishing there in a rain of grief." - Shelli Langdale
I’m wondering how you came to the subject of loss and grief being the central emotions for “Dissolution”?
I was offered a solo prior to the death of a loved one, which occurred during the height of the pandemic in late 2020. Caring for my loved one’s emotional well-being and supporting his physical decline was my highest priority, and I had been doing it for a few years. Grief is a reflection of what we love and it’s all-encompassing. I was heartbroken and bereft. My escape to nature was severed. I didn’t leave my loft for a year. I felt lost, purposeless. I didn’t know who I was without him. The subject of the exhibit, of course, evolved as a result of my anguish. The act of painting became a cathartic extension of my grief, an attempt to find meaning and a way forward.
Do you think (given the past couple years of the pandemic and political upheaval) that we’re in a stage of societal grief?
In the U.S, we’ve been experiencing a collective grief over many significant changes and losses these past few years. We’ve lost loved ones to Covid-19, police brutality/racism, school shootings, and natural disasters due to climate change. We’ve lost jobs and wages, homes, and safe spaces. We’ve missed special events like graduations, vacations, birthdays, weddings, and funerals. We grieve the disruptions to our daily routines and our sense of normalcy. We grieve the loss of iconic figures. We grieve the divisions that our politics and religions have created. Some of us are discovering that our institutions are systemically racist, homophobic, and misogynist. Society feels unjust and inhospitable to so many. Everyone is struggling, especially the most marginalized among us.
Can you tell me about your creative process? How does the surreal imagery of your work come to you and then translate to the physical work?
The scenes are an attempt at conveying conflated memories (or emotional moments) from a previous lived experience juxtaposed with present day life. They are derived from a composite of photos taken from my life. Oddly, I hadn’t considered them as surreal works, more like symbols, until this interview. And I’m uncertain if I view them through this lens. They aren’t a union of the subconscious and conscious experience but an acute awareness of the past and present with elements chosen symbolically. It’s probably a bit naive on my part and requires more thought. Although, I understand that they can be seen this way.
Horses are present in your visual iconography, I’m wondering why that animal specifically has come to be synonymous with the heavy feelings of grief?
Grief isn’t limited to the loss of people. There’s a reappearance of a single horse (Ziggy) throughout my paintings and is the source of my grief.
Can I hear more about Ziggy and how you drew so close with him after 18 years?
There was a quiet comfort and connection in my relationship with Ziggy. After almost 18 years together, our communication was subtle, effortless. He followed me. I followed him. We no longer argued. An unknowing mentor, he grounded and transformed me, a daily reset into confronting the challenging realities of human existence. So much of who I am I attribute to him. With his absenting, I anticipated the dissolution of fortitude without a metamorphosis. He gave me a purpose. I served at the pleasure. I had been waiting for my moment. An audience of one, in secret, with no applause. I loved him.
Would you describe Ziggy as your muse?
Yes. Absolutely. Many of my endeavors and new experiences have been inspired by his existence. His life was meaningful to me.
Do you have any rituals that help with your creative process?
Podcasts and audiobooks are my go-to. They help focus my busy mind. Oh, and tea! I especially enjoy listening to podcasts about artists and hearing about their unique artistic journeys. They inspire me to experiment with or offer new viewpoints about painting.
What has led you to trying more experimental work in “Dissolution”?
For as much as I felt I had to express grief, it was still challenging to visually articulate my experience via oil paintings alone. I kept recalling the nature sounds and the music (“Spectre”, “Pieces of Me”) that I listened to during the first year after my loss. I was inconsolable (“Corner of Your Lovesong”). Tissue was everywhere (“Tissue”, “Pieces of Me”). The melancholy felt so heavy (“To Be Still in the Falling Pain”). I was purposeless and broken (“Pieces of Me”). These moments encouraged me, along with my partner, to conceptualize them. Exploring different avenues for communication has been revelatory. I’m considering including supportive elements in future exhibits.
Why did you decide to bring in a guest artist for your solo? Did you both collaborate?
I didn’t want to do it alone. Grief is hard. I wanted to elevate someone whose works were beautiful, complimentary, and supportive of the subject. Ashley is entering into a conversation. Together, our works will talk about grief through our own lived experiences.
What made you decide to include audio with your paintings?
Music affects our emotional experience and elicits diverse responses. “Spectre” is a visualization of lyrics from a placid song, with a haunting melody, that speaks to love, longing, and loss. Its inclusion supports what I am attempting to say visually and helps place the listener into a shared emotional space. The painting provides the environment. Alone, it is expansive and melancholic but the audio immerses one into that environment and evokes, providing another dimension for the viewer’s experience. It usually leaves me in tears.
Besides creating artwork, what else do you love to do?
I enjoy reading, especially science fiction, and exploring dense metropolitan areas. Like the fantastical environments and alternative spaces found within science fiction novels, large cities offer ways to imagine reinventing ourselves and our perspectives. The residuals from these trips are often transformative for me. I’m also invigorated by being in nature. My partner and I frequently travel, visiting national parks via our adventure van.