A Leap of Faith
One year ago, artist Shelli Walters left her ad agency career of 24 years to take a leap of faith. She chose to instead pursue the mysterious and creative path that is creating art, surrendering to her craving for freedom and autonomy. For a security junkie like Shelli, a leap like this was terrifying. The year leading up to her departure was full of struggle and soul searching, but it was also a time of profound personal and spiritual growth. Her connection to Nature and her guidance became an undeniable and powerful force. Birds appeared as messengers. Again and again, she heard a ceaseless call she felt compelled to answer by facing her fears and realigning her life.
Because Shelli brings the sunshine everywhere she goes, it’s been a joy to feature her this month at Marmot Art Space. I came across her work years ago in Bend, Oregon. While her gallery showcases many stellar artists, Shelli’s work stood out like a moonbeam eclipsing a star-laden blanket of night. In her artist statement, which was just as inspiring, she explained her decision to dedicate her life full-time to painting. Her artist statement began with this quote by Erin Hanson:
There is freedom
waiting for you,
On the breezes
of the sky,
And you ask,
“What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?
Shelli says the birds which called her to be a painter reappear in her work. “Each take their perfect, harmonious place within the earth and sky. Trusting their grand wings to live as Nature intended.”
Shelli spent the earliest years of her childhood living in a beach town on the Oregon coast. “The sand, sea, and salt are part of my soul,” she says. “I may live by the ocean again someday. I retreat there once or twice a year to replenish my salt levels.”
She has loved to draw, paint, and be creative for as long as she can remember; she even used to try to convince her mom she was sick so she could stay home from school to draw or paint. Even though she wasn’t taken to art galleries and there was not much offered in art class, she did receive a lot of encouragement in her artistic endeavors from parents, friends, and teachers.
“I was the youngest of five girls, too young to join in on their adventures, so I created my own through my art and in the outdoors,” she explains. “It was the 70’s so kids were free to roam, learn to be independent, and to self-entertain. We had to engage our imaginations and creativity to invent our own fun and adventure. I remember getting my friends to join me in staging plays for the neighborhood or loading up my Western Flyer wagon with our drawings, and painting rocks to exhibit in front of the corner market.”
To achieve a natural-looking symbiosis between a variety of artistic mediums, Shelli primarily mixes acrylic paint and collage, and sometimes incorporates oil pastel, crayon, and pencil. Occasionally, even rice papers and threads find their way into her work. She also keeps on hand her favorite black and white collage copies of items like handwriting, maps, dots, and patterns that she will smother with paint. “They are fun to make,” Shelli says. “I like acrylic because it’s water-based—no fumes or chemicals that give me a headache—and it dries fast, which allows me to stay engaged and in the moment. Robert Burridge got me into acrylic collage. I got addicted to it. I love the surprises that occur with the layering and the shapes and textures that emerge.”
She admires artists who toggle thinking and playing while they are creating, allowing each to engage without getting in the way of the other. She calls it “the alchemy of control and chaos.” They are those who create work that has irresistible energy and freedom while still being cohesive in their final presentation. While visiting the Georgia O’Keefe museum, she found herself crying. “Not because of her art, but for her,” Shelli said. “The bravery it took for her to live her life as a female artist during that time. I had just quit my safe, secure ad agency job to pursue art and freelance design work, which was terrifying. I could relate on a smaller scale to what it meant for her to take such a leap of faith. [She] made me once again appreciate all the trailblazing women who came before me who had the spunk to live their own lives on their own terms during a time when women generally didn’t have that luxury.”
Because Shelli always lived where nature was abundant, it’s the place where she feels most alive, grounded, and connected to herself and the universe. All the superficial, unimportant trappings of the human world disappear when she convenes with nature, an irresistible wilderness rich in texture, color, and shape. She loves exploring this in her work and tries to express some of that energy and magic. “I want to feel a story emerge,” Shelli says. Through painting, she hears the voices of nature. Engaging in this way makes her feel alive and connected to all living things.
For this reason, she also finds animals fascinating and beautiful since their presence encourages her to live in the present moment, thus instantly clearing her head of chatter and instilling a sense of wonder, peace, and gratitude. “Animals have no concept of getting to work on time or being something they are not,” Shelli says. “They simply live their lives as they are made to without all the human baggage, we heap on ourselves and each other.”
Sadly, Shelli recently lost her mom, which has been a heartbreaking and challenging experience. “It has had an impact on the art I’m creating now,” she says. “There were weeks and weeks that I was not able to paint. There has been an overwhelming amount to deal with, and it is incredibly fragmenting. When I got back into the studio, I started seeing a shift in composition and color. There is a simplification taking place that is bringing more clarity to my work. It’s less fragmented, less tiny bits and more broad strokes. More emphasis on the juxtaposition of quiet and busy. More play in the colors I choose to put next to each other.”
Even in the wake of loss and heartbreak, Shelli brings the sunshine, and (like her paintings) her words shine on in my thoughts even in times of sadness:
“Time to brave up.
Time to fly.
Time to trust my wings and synchronicity”
Shelli’s artwork will be on display all this month at Marmot Art Space in Kendall Yards, and she will be present at the First Friday, on September 2. Doors open at 5 pm.
Marshall Peterson owns and operates Marmot Art Space, which was voted Best of the City 2021 for art galleries by the readers of this magazine.
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