Breaking The Surface With Artist Shelley Mansel

Breaking The Surface With Artist Shelley Mansel

By Anna Horsnell


In exclusive conversations with the artists from The Prow Gallery, Breaking the Surface delves deeper into the personalities and passion behind the artistry. Our sincere thanks go out to each artist for graciously sharing from the heart. 

Shelley Mansel

You have mentioned spontaneity as the perfect doorway to finding your next inspiration. Is that your greatest joy in the act of creation perhaps? Or does the real pleasure begin in the studio?

My spontaneity gets me really excited about new things whether it be water ripples, fire, the forest floor. It can also be fragmenting for focus. Every theme takes time to flesh out, and it's great to see things through in the studio as a body of work progresses. I do, however, tend to get bored and want to move on to the next new and exciting thing!

Your landscapes exude an admirable skill of interpreting the landscape in simplified shapes while still beautifully capturing the depth, contrast, light and mood. What brought you to this particular style?

My simplifying aesthetic comes from asking myself, What is this painting about? The focus. Is it about the central object, the light source, the palette? If it can only be "about"; one thing, everything else is in a supporting role.

Shape, colour, form, value, line … all the elements of design. What do you see first and how does that lead your process?

My paintings are always determined by the sense of light. You can pass by the same unremarkable house for years but then there is that one time, the sky is dark, the storm clouds break and the house is glowing in low light! Magic! Plus, you happened to be there in that precise moment.

Water surfaces, fire, land, waterfalls, architecture - of all the series you have created, which holds the most meaning to you?

I gravitate toward the landscape subject in all its forms. Whatever I am currently painting is my favourite, as long as it serves as a stage to emphasize light, and evoke a moment and sense of place. My variety of landscape subgenres such as aerial, underwater, industrial and pastoral are like locations in a movie: they serve to set the scene for the drama.

You have indicated that climate change has influenced your creative direction recently. How do you hope that personal exploration initiates a wider conversation with the viewer?

I look to David Attenborough's approach to climate change awareness. His documentaries showcase the natural world in such a beautiful magical way in the hopes that we may be equally inspired to preserve it.  If one is moved by the beauty and awe of it, one is more likely to protect it. You can approach my
work in this way too: attracted by beauty while also weighing the larger implications.

Is your art the question or the answer in your mind?

Art is always questioning. Every canvas is a new challenge; almost like you've never made a painting before this one! During the creation, every step is an inquiry: What if I did this? Once completed, you have one version of a result that could've gone many different ways, so naturally you make more and
see what those outcomes reveal.

What is the greatest influence on your work and typical day in the studio? Why?

A surprisingly hard question!
In the studio I am:
-starting work, finishing work and planning future work for galleries
-making sure I have lots of finished minis for my Paintings with Eggs project
-looking, dreaming, scheming
-influenced by past work, current variations of work, and future ideas
-battling distractions, battling self doubt
-trying to stay focused, consistent and using time well

Describe the experience of seeing your artwork in published form, specifically your two versions of A Decade of Painting? Did you perhaps uncover a new understanding or direction in the process?

Years ago, I published A Decade of Painting. It was a great way to take stock of what I had accomplished over 10 years and how my work had developed. I highly recommend documenting your progress, to artists and everyone really. Look at how far you've come! My seemingly disparate choices of subject matter make perfect sense in hindsight, as chapters in your life, all written by your hand.


At the end of your career, what do you hope to have achieved? In other words, what does success look like to you?

Measuring success ... each painting I made was time well spent, and I can see a tangible record of that moment in my life when I look back. Constantly learning and evolving. I truly believe if everyone's basic needs were met financially, we would all be artists in our desired mediums! I'm so glad I've been able to sustain a life of artmaking.

What would you like to share about your work or yourself that would perhaps surprise most people?

One thing that may be surprising is that I often only paint for two hours a day. The rest of the time is spent on the back-end stuff like social media, correspondence, documentation, shipping, shooting/gathering/altering my source material, planning and refueling the inspiration tank.

What's your guilty pleasure when you leave the studio for the day?

When I'm not in the studio, I am gardening pretty much as soon as the snow is gone; from March until October.  We are fortunate to live on a few acres in rural Nova Scotia with a creek, a pond and forest so you can find me walking in the woods, gardening and bird watching when I'm not in the studio. 

Movies or books. Name your favourite and why?

Movies. I'm embarrassed to say that most of my favourite movies are not high brow classics. Groundhog Day and 50 First Dates come to mind.  Learning lessons in love the hard way, trying to become a better person while living the same day over and over again, that's the crux of it, isn't it?

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