"This piece is part of my summer 2019 collection, Sommesso. Sommesso was conceived as a celebration of quiet moments, and the imagery was primarily inspired by the marshlands approaching the North Carolina Outer Banks. I was inspired by the reflection of the sunset in the water of the marshes, and wanted to create a piece that showed that blurring of lines between earth and sky. The relative homogeneity of tone and value in the foreground emphasizes the movement in the sky and the broken black horizon line."
- Elizabeth Shanahan
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“I think we're given unique gifts for a reason, and I'm proud to have been able to share that conviction with others.”
Elizabeth Shanahan’s love of art draws from her experiences in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Her parents, having been from New York, were infatuated with the natural beauty of the area and moved there before Elizabeth was born. They encouraged Elizabeth and her sisters to “appreciate the incredible views” of the landscape.
From a young age, Elizabeth was possessed by a sense of wonder surrounding nature that naturally progressed into a desire to create. She believes that each of us has an irrevocable and intentional place in nature's design, and that immersing ourselves in that design is the key to happiness. “I make art to share that message of love and belonging, and hope that when viewers see my work, they can feel it too.”
Following her childhood passion, Elizabeth began to pursue the arts during high school. She was very into music and theater in her youth and even performed as first chair flute and piccolo. Her family was resistant and wished Elizabeth would pursue an academic future, and Elizabeth did have other interests elsewhere, like in history and writing. Eventually, she fully leaned into the arts, and she loves that with art, she can explore everything that strikes her interest. “I realized that my heart was going to keep drawing me back to art no matter what I did,” she shares.
Being an artist gives her the freedom and power to do what she wants with her body. Elizabeth lives with hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a condition that comes with constant pain, fatigue, as well as uncertainty. She feels as if her body controls her, instead of the other way around. “Work as an artist gives me some of that control back. I'm grateful that I was given this gift of creativity,” she shares. Living with a disability that forces her to slow down has taught Elizabeth that her best work almost never comes from pushing herself past her abilities, but by honoring herself and her own needs.
Elizabeth’s faith is a very important part of her artistic journey. After growing up in a Christian home and spending time exploring other faiths, she realized her love of God through her work. Elizabeth speaks often about the sense of love and belonging she hopes exudes from her work. She believes, “That ultimately comes from the knowledge that our Creator made us part of this beautiful picture on purpose.”
Elizabeth loves many things about art but her favorite aspect is that art is a form of communication. She states, “It's really beautiful that we've found so many different ways to share ideas, ensuring that all of us can both speak and hear, even though we all see the world differently.” Elizabeth communicates her love of nature through her work, as it is her biggest inspiration. She focuses her attention on trees, mountains, and clouds, but also draws inspiration from music and reading, especially questions of philosophy and spirituality.
Another source of inspiration stems from her travels, which opened up her mind to new cultures, palettes, and styles. When Elizabeth was in college, she spent time in Italy and she considers it to have had a major impact on her work. As an ode to her time there, she often titles her pieces in Italian or draws upon color palettes and landscape compositions she saw in Tuscany. She also spent time in China, Croatia, Mexico, Czechia, and also France, where she completed an artist residency and participated in a group show at The Louvre.
Elizabeth’s creative style continues to evolve as she gains more experience in artistry. She prefers a slightly unfinished look in her work. Her pieces tend to feature a sense of depth and movement. Elizabeth states, “There's a lot of variation among my collections, which I think is at least in part a reflection of the fact that I'm still in the early stages of my career.” When she’s in the process of starting a new piece, she spends time observing and letting ideas form in her unconscious mind. She finds that letting ideas germinate over time leads to a faster painting process and more satisfying conclusion.
Elizabeth works with many different materials and tries to stay open to the demands of a particular piece. Most of her work starts out with an acrylic base or oil pastel. She feels that acrylic has the most flexibility with color mixing, but loves to incorporate oil pastels into her pieces. She enjoys that pastels are “messy and chunky and altogether incredible.” With these bases, she then considers adding gold leaf, machine stitching, hand embroidery, earth pigments, or some combination thereof, to give each piece an extra spark.
“Artmaking is a solitary practice, but humans are social. Getting to see the impact of those long hours in the studio is very gratifying.”
Elizabeth works full time as an artist. She sells her work at fine art fairs, but her condition makes this exhausting. She hopes to make more connections in the corporate art world through ArtLifting and looks forward to seeing her work in bigger spaces while reducing the physical demands of showing at art fairs. She shares, “The impact on me, my health, and my family will be enormous.” Elizabeth dreams of opening her studio to other artists who are just starting to branch out on their own as entrepreneurs. Knowing from experience how nerve-wracking it can be to start a career in the arts, she would like to be a mentor and provide artists with a space to create, network, and form community.
Outside of creating art, Elizabeth is passionate about dog rescue. She works in her mother’s rescue assisting with the sheltering and rehoming of dogs. Her wish is to work with a population of dogs that are unadoptable, such as newborn puppies, expectant mothers, and dogs working through trauma. When not working or creating, Elizabeth enjoys reading, playing the piano, or spending time with her family.
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