Marykay Shellman works on a painting in her Magpie Acres Studio near Bayfield on Tuesday morning. Two of her latest paintings have been selected for the “Abstract Views” show at the Durango Arts Center./Photo by Steve Eginoire

Abstract views

Bayfield painter seeks to balance spontaneity and order
by Stew Mosberg

Marykay Shellman has put a lot of thought into her art. “Painting, like life,” she has said “is constantly challenging the balance between spontaneity and the need for order.” As cerebral as she is adroit with a brush, the Bayfield painter works in an environment most artists only dream about. Her Magpie Acres Studio is set on a tree-lined country road adjacent to her house. The airy atelier boasts large windows framing an expansive vista of mountains and fields, letting in copious amounts of northern light and southern exposure.

The whimsical moniker for her studio originated from the numerous magpies that once inhabited the area before West Nile disease decimated the population. Shellman acknowledges the surrounding landscape is integral to her creative process and that it continues to provide inspiration for her subject matter and color. “I am surrounded by peace & beauty,” she says.

Shellman started painting more than 30 years ago, but as other artists have found, life can put detours into one’s plans. And although she proved to grow as an artist and human being, she has focused her full attention on art only in the past five years. Fortunately, she says “I am (finally) confident in my style, use of color, themes and techniques.”

Still, as with many artistic people, doubt has a way of creeping into that positive attitude.

“Remarkably,” she acknowledged recently, “this vulnerable part of me is a part of what I express in my artwork, and I intrinsically know that it makes me a better artist.”

While such candor might seem uncommon, it is also endearing. There is seriousness in her art that is often hidden under a bold palette of primary colors in what might be described as Matisse-like compositions. Other paintings of hers are reminiscent of deKooning or of one of her personal favorites, Cezanne. It was his work that first inspired Shellman to focus on oil painting. Although mostly abstract expression in style, her images might include semi-realistic figures; people, a llama, a horse, even inanimate objects and landscape, but all draw the viewer into her paintings.
Describing how she arrives at a new idea gives a glimpse into her thought process, “My work begins with a concept: a vision that caught my eye,
a political event loaded with irony, music that delights my soul, a disturbing item from the news, words of a song that express a belief so perfectly.”

The enigmatic titles of her work are frequently personal, spiritual or political in nature and are as fascinating as they are cryptic. They might come from something she hears, sees or reads. “Often a painting will take on a life of its own,” she says, “While I am deep in the act of painting, a quote or song or phrase will come to me. It is then that I realize what the artwork is saying.”

At times, she will be caught up in a theme, something she is working through philosophically or emotionally, and the results culminate in a series of paintings tied to that subject or occurrence. Having exhausted the theme, she might then move on, only to return to it again at a much later date.

Shellman earned a fine arts degree from the University of Colorado and later studied at a variety of institutions, including Fort Lewis College with Stanton Englehart. She continued to study art and earned a teaching certificate from University of Nevada, which helped her secure a teaching position at Bayfield Middle school awhile back. Recently, she began to explore ceramics, pottery and printmaking and learned from a variety of artists, both regionally and nationally.

Shellman has displayed work at a broad range of venues including one-woman, two-person and group shows, and has shown numerous times at exhibits in the Durango Arts Center and at the Ignacio Community Library. Two of her latest paintings have been selected for the “Abstract Views” show at the Durango Arts Center this coming January.

Evolution of an artist’s work may take years to develop or it might be an epiphany of sorts. Shellman spent years away from painting, but her experiences in life during that time, with all its demands, tragedies and shifts in direction, coalesced into the artist she is today.

“Aging is a fascinating process of traces of the past,” she explains, “overlaid with the persistence of the present and the illusions of the future. This technique of leaving signs of reworking; having a balance of concealment and revelation, exposing the visibility of overlaid surfaces is what I am striving for in my recent work.”

That latest discovery was partially inspired by the writings of artist Richard Diebenkorn, whose expressionistic canvasses are reflected in more than a few of Shellman’s paintings. Mentioning her name in the same sentence as Diebenkorn, Matisse, Cezanne and deKooning might seem inappropriate to most people, including Shellman herself.

Yet, if you look at the body of her work and talk to her as an artist, it might not be such a stretch, after all. As obscure as her name might be to the art connoisseur, there is no denying the beauty and craftsmanship her work demonstrates.