US-based contemporary artist Monica Shulman believes that all human experiences and emotions are important and valuable. She aims to make art that is relatable to viewers in a contemplative and personal way, as she created work that is profound, penetrating, and evocative, very much corresponding to ourselves and how we live. We interviewed Monica to learn more about her practice, inspirations, and what she is working on today.
1. How does your creative day look like and what inspires you to make art? Has your creative day changed due to Covid-19?
As an Artist, I’m tasked with translating my daily observations into tangible work. I’m inspired by everything - my kids, nature, the mighty Hudson River near where I live and work, my travels, my childhood, my family, current events, news.
I’m a planner by nature but I enjoy trying to balance my time between mapping out my ideas and making plans and allowing myself the freedom to make whatever comes to mind in a given moment. I like to feel like I’m in control so giving that up is a big part of my art practice because some of my best work happens when I let myself be free. After I get my kids off to school my day usually begins with some form of exercise before heading out to my studio where I typically start by working in my visual journal to warm up. Some days I only create in my journals and sketch or write out my ideas, other days I get right to my projects and try to pick up where I left off the day before. At least once a week I’m on my computer doing the necessary (but often painful for me) business of being an Artist - emails, invoices, submitting my work to calls, research, networking, social media, etc.
My creative day changed drastically during quarantine. With my kids at home, I’ve had to adjust my entire schedule as I am committed to putting my family first and doing my work where ever I can fit it in. It is not ideal at all but I know it’s temporary and my kids need me now more than ever. I brought a lot of materials from my studio so I could work at home but they just sat unused and instead I started to experiment with new mediums like oil pastel, coloured pencils, pens, ink, and soft pastels. I didn’t feel comfortable using my oil paints in my home studio bc it isn’t as well ventilated so I pushed myself to try new things and just let myself create for the sake of creating. I started drawing more and making much smaller work. I’ve also been experimenting with different styles.
2. Tell us more about your art studio
My studio is my happy place. I work in an old converted warehouse that is one of its past lives was a brewery on the banks of the Hudson River just 25 miles north of New York City. My huge windows face the river and I’m constantly inspired by my view.
3. How did you first get interested in your medium/s?
My work and evolution as an artist have always been a work in progress. I’ve always been open to trying new things both as a photographer and a painter. After years of focusing on my career as a photographer, I returned to my first love...painting. My shift back to oil paints after years of abandoning that practice grew out of boredom and feeling too limited by working with acrylics. I missed the texture of painting with oil and that feeling of waiting for layers to grow on top of themselves and having to dry before moving on. Working with oil pastels now gives me a lot of flexibility and I like mixing all the various mediums, experimenting, and having fun.
4. Describe your style in one sentence.
I’m not a very good editor so one sentence is too hard! I create abstraction that feels liberating and without a fixed narrative. I use colour, sculptural layers, and gestural strokes to tell stories - my own and those of the viewer.
5. Has your style changed over time?
Of course! I think change is the only constant and I prefer to face the uncertainty of change and growth to staying in one place. I hate feeling bored and like I’m not challenged. It’s really hard to identify every significant moment and to assess my growth and evolution as an Artist. My art has always been a work in progress and I think it’s because I never really let myself get too comfortable with anything I’m doing. I let myself go through phases and then go back to old styles and build upon that. I try not to look at things in my artwork as “mistakes” (I have made plenty of them both personally and professionally) even though I go back and don’t always love my older work and choices. I never throw anything away and I like to keep older work so I can see the progression and the growth. I date everything and I constantly narrate my own work in my journals.
6. What are your main artistic tools?
My eyes and my open mind are my main artistic tools. I always try to push myself to see and think differently. I also can’t live without my art books, my journals, my Sakura pens, my Gamblin oil paints, and my Sennelier oil pastels. In general, I don’t know what on earth I would do if I didn’t have dickblick.com.
7. Do you ever experience creativity blocks and how do you stay positive and inspired?
Absolutely! I don’t think it’s possible to be an Artist without experiencing creativity blocks. I love to read and turn to books when I’m feeling uninspired. I also spend a lot of time on museum websites and Instagram to look for inspiration. When I’m feeling blocked I also turn to human interaction. Before Covid, I would go to NYC for the day to just walk the galleries or go to a museum by myself. I love to be alone to have time to think but I also love being with my friends and family who fuel me and inspire me. I love to get outside to hike with my dog and my kids. I also love to take my kids to museums to see art through their eyes. I also sometimes just take a break, let myself sit in a moment, and accept the creative block. They never last forever and usually big ideas are born when we stop and take a minute.
8. What artists - either contemporary or from history - have had an impact on you and your art practice?
SO MANY! This list is endless and not complete... Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, MC Escher, Judy Chicago, Amoako Boafo, Jamie Beck, Ian Michael, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Richard Avedon, Elliott Erwitt, Vivian Meier, Sally Mann, Mary Abbott, Kara Walker, Edgar Degas, Cecily Brown, Andrew Salgado, Jose Parla, JR, Kehinde Wiley, Teresita Fernández. I think it’s so important to look at and study the work of other Artists--especially when that person’s work is different from your own.
9. Do you think the art world has changed or will be changing due to the pandemic? If yes, how?
YES. I hopefully think people outside of the art world see more than ever the true value of art. Art contributes to life on a daily basis - literature, film, music, fine, art, photography are all ways that you can connect with yourself and with the outside world in a moment of solitude and when we’ve been forced to stay indoors and isolated. Art is so healing. I also think the way that we engage and interact with art has necessarily and will continue to change with huge art fairs being canceled due to social distancing guidelines. It’s been inspiring to see the innovative ways that brands, art dealers, fairs, artists, and galleries have been leveraging their social media channels to show work in new ways. Out of necessity new ways of engaging with, buying, sell and sharing art are being born. I also think that the pandemic coupled with the very necessary call for justice and civil rights for the Black community is bringing about significant changes to the art world. Crisis often triggers change and that’s more clear now than ever.
10. What project are you working on right now? What would you like to do next?
I’m working on a few different things including updating my website and figuring out ways to get my work in front of more people. I’m always thinking about networking but mostly right now I’m really excited about getting back to my studio and taking all the new work that I’ve been making at home and translating it into larger pieces. I’ve been forced to slow down and while I was in a panic at first with multiple show cancellations and other professional disappointments, it’s actually been great for me emotionally to take a breath and a step back and put everything into perspective.