I recently had the good fortune of attending the Art Battle held in Ottawa on January 15th at the Arts Court.  What’s an art battle, you say?  Allow me to set the scene…

In an art battle, competitive painting occurs at center stage for 20-minute rounds. Six artists face off in a hexagon, their backs to a swelling crowd of all ages. Under the bright lights and the direction of the emcee, painting begins at a frenetic pace and viewers begin a steady, but necessarily counter-clockwise march—or shuffle, rather—around the artists.

It doesn’t take long, however, until the crowd begins to feel magnetic. It’s the 15-minute mark, and a whirlwind of wonder, and doubt and delight, is rooted by the artistic frenzy at the eye of the storm. Seemingly in spite of this, each rotation around the hexagon brings more vigor and life to each painting—it would be dizzying, if it wasn’t so rhythmic and breathtaking. It was somewhere between an artist’s studio and a mosh-pit—and I liked it. The art was fresh, unique, provocative… and no one got hurt!

At the 5-minute mark you can feel the heat rise as the pace quickens, artists attempt to fulfill their vision, and the crowds manoeuvre and jockey for position, hoping to catch the final brush stroke of their favourite competitor.

Time elapses, brushes fall, voting begins. Eventually a silent auction takes place, and any art that doesn’t make the cut, gets cut. Quite literally. The art is destroyed with a chainsaw.

Local artist Shelby Taylor is one of Ottawa’s own art battle competitors. In minutes, Shelby managed to capture the attention and enthusiasm of the crowd, and created the only purely symbolic and surreal figure that round, with vivid colour and tempered expression. It was clear from the beginning that Shelby was a fore-runner in the battle; a real-life Art Warrior. Before her on the battlefield was a lion, a black stallion, a monochromatic portrait… just to name a few, and the battle was raging!

I had the opportunity to interview Shelby Taylor ‘post-fight’ and I’d like to share that interview with you.
[More of Shelby’s art below]

Me: Where are you from, Shelby?

Shelby: Cornwall, Ontario—born and raised.

Me: That was an impressive battle. I thoroughly enjoyed your work! Have you done this before?

Shelby: Nope, this was my first time, but thank you! I also enjoyed myself, and I thought this was a great experience. It was quite the atmosphere, and a little overwhelming at first.

Me: If you were nervous, it certainly didn’t show. So, where do you do the majority of your work?

Shelby: For the last four years I’ve been using the studio space at Ottawa U, but most often in my home studio.

Me: What moves you most in life, either to inspire you or to upset you?

Shelby: I’m inspired by life, ideology, psychology, fantasy… basically everything. Sometimes my work speaks to social issues and the negative aspects of life, sometimes they speak to hope, humour, and innocence—it really depends on my mood. When in doubt, I look to movies and documentaries for material.

Me: Do you work mostly from life, from photography, or from imagination?

Shelby: I use photo sources for most of my work. I usually have a scenario in mind (from imagination), then I search for the appropriate images online, in books, or take the photos myself. My paintings are the result of several photos or parts of photos being collaged together. I do paint from life if I have the subjects on hand or in my environment, ie. toys, landscapes.

Me: That’s very interesting. I think everyone feels a sense of humour and innocence when they see toys, and that that raw emotion can be manipulated.

Me: You seem to be very in tune with perception and impression, which is good for an artist. Where do you feel art is going?

Shelby: I’ve noticed that humour is apparent, even in my serious paintings, and this is an element I would like to explore in more depth. Ideally, I would love to be able to make a living on making art, but I also want to make it and share it without worrying about a payout. Public and community art is a strong interest of mine, as well as collaborating with other artists, musicians, film-makers, and creative youth. I don’t want to limit myself to painting, and I’m starting to integrate sculpture, installation, film, and photography more explicitly in my work.

Me: Tell me, what do you feel is the role of the artist in society?

Shelby: I believe artists should always be critical of society. Art is reactionary and this should never change. Although many artists’ concerns deal strictly with the formalities of art, and the properties of the different mediums, I believe these types of artists are wasting the world’s time. Medium is an important part of the message, but if the only message is the medium, I find it redundant.

Me: I agree. With that in mind, what is the place in society for your art, specifically?

Shelby: I want my art to make people think, and ideally, I want it to bring people together.

Me: I think that’s quite humble, and your art certainly makes people think.

Me: Which is more important to you; the subject of your art, or the way it is executed?

Shelby: The subject is most important to me, and the way it is executed is intended to either enforce or confuse the message I am trying to convey. Like Rene Magritte, I am more concerned with what I paint than how I paint. That said, my style tends to be graphic or illustrative, and I tend to use very expressive or exaggerated colours. I try to render my subjects as realistically as possible, but again, depending on the message, I may or may not blend colours, or use expressive brush-strokes, for example.

Me: What do you dislike the most about your work?

Shelby: Although I appreciate art history and theory, making art in an academic setting for four years hasn’t allowed me to be completely finished or wholly satisfied with more than a couple of pieces. The elitism of the art world is a total turn-off, and since I want to make art that everyone can understand, I fear that the general public may not get what I am trying to express due to my academic training.

Me: Were you originally inspired to paint, or was it natural?

Shelby: It’s hard to find a specific origin for my drive to become an artist. I would say it was more natural than inspired. I started to draw before I learned to walk (it’s true—ask my mom!). When I was sick as a child and stayed home from school, I would draw. When I was bullied by kids for being shy, I would bring my sketch-book outside for recess and escape into drawing. Art has always been an escape where I could create and control reality.

Me: Do any of your paintings have deeper meanings, or particular sources of inspiration?

Shelby: When I am happy my work is lighthearted, and when I am upset, my work is heavy. Lately, my work is inspired by psychology and child development. I am a youth worker for the military so my life outside of art is concerned with trauma and children’s well-being. I believe that whatever is happening outside of my studio will always end up as a source inside my studio.

Me: Who and what do you like to depict in your art?

Shelby: Animals are potent symbols and I use them most often in my work. I also paint people, animal-human hybrids, recognizable or surreal spaces, mythological beings, nature, technology, and architecture.

Me: Quite the repertoire, and very imaginative! I have just one last question that every artist should have an answer for: what does colour mean to you?

Shelby: Colour in my work is more saturated than in reality. Certain colours can create certain psychological reactions (ie. red is alarming, blue is calming, etc…), but there are also colours that I am addicted to—like turquoise and purple, and I use them whenever I can. I don’t feel the need to represent things in a totally realistic way, because I am not a hyperrealist, and using unrealistic colour is one of the freedoms I like to exploit as a painter.

Me: I appreciate your honesty.

Me: Well, Shelby, this interview was a pleasure, and in my humble opinion you took the art battle to a whole new level. And for those reasons I thank you.

Shelby: The pleasure was mine, and thank you for this interview!

If you’re looking for Shelby on the web, go to http://shelbyt83.wix.com/escapeartist.
If you would like to contact Shelby, you can e-mail her at shelbster88@gmail.com.

Shelby Taylor: Works of Art

Retrievers - 2011 Shelby TaylorRetrievers, 2011
(oil on canvas)
Minervas Betrayal - 2012 Shelby TaylorMinerva’s Betrayal, 2012
(acrylic, spray paint, craft paper, and gel mediums on canvas)
Conventional Mysogyny - 2013 Shelby TaylorConventional Misogyny, 2013
(acrylic, oil, gel transfers, and stencils on wood panel)
Sophies Minions - 2013 - Shelby TaylorSophie’s Minions, 2013
(colouring book gel transfers, acrylic, and oil on canvas)

If you’re looking for Shelby on the web, go to http://shelbyt83.wix.com/escapeartist.
If you would like to contact Shelby, you can e-mail her at shelbster88@gmail.com.

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