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Underground Interview - Sheelah Tolton

Sheelah Tolton will be exhibiting her series of plein air paintings at Arts Underground for the month of February. We recently asked Sheelah to share with us some insights into her practice, her favourite works of art and some of the lessons she has learned in her art career. Thanks for playing along, Sheelah! 

What’s the most important item in your studio?

I don’t have a studio per se,  and I don’t think I can point to any one object that is irreplaceable to my art making.  Maybe clean rags or paper towels?  If your brush is dirty or soggy it all turns into a mess.

What’s the last piece of art you purchased?

I bought a small sculpture by Sandra Storey and a ceramic piece by Larry DuGuay just before Christmas.

What piece of art do you wish you could have in your home?

I would rather see more great art of all scales and types in public spaces.  I love seeing the rotating collection of pieces on display in the library!

What Northern artist excites you?

Most relevant to my current show would be Jane Isakson.

What do you like to do after an art opening?

I get pretty buzzed off of the anticipation, excitement and good conversation and tend to crash pretty hard afterward as a result.  Some real food, a long hot shower, then into bed.

What book should we read?

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor.

What medium (other than the one you currently work with) would you like to master?

Oil paint.  It intimidates me.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

For plien air the considerations are more practical than artistic sometimes!  it’s a combination of a) Have I captured the minimum required to see the essence of what drew my attention to this scene? b) Can I still feel my fingers/ has the paint frozen? and c) Is the light gone?

What’s your favourite piece you’ve ever made?

“Possum and Avocado” was definitely a breakthrough piece for me and was something of a lifeline to work on at the time.  It was painted during the second half of my time in New Zealand on working holiday in 2016.  I was so tired and stressed out.  Despite this, when I learned of a biennial art competition hosted by the Tauranga Art Gallery I decided to challenge myself to participate.  I had no idea what to do until I found the skull, perfectly de-fleshed and clean, while on a hike.  It seemed like a sign.

Working on the painting gave me a framework to reflect on my experiences and subjects relating to the relationship between humankind and nature- more specifically migration, invasiveness and fault/blame.  I am so happy with the resulting growth in how I think about creating art, and in the end result.  Furthermore, it was accepted into the exhibit and was my first significant painting sale.

What’s a big art lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Perseverance.  I doesn't matter where you think you are today or tomorrow, just keep going.

Sheelah's show will be on at Arts Underground until February 24th. 

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