Shawna C. Elliott came to painting later in life, after facing a critical juncture in her marriage. Even though Elliott’s favorite subject matter is farm animals, she uses abstract painting as a way to achieve a greater emotional self-awareness. Here, she discusses what drove her to become an artist, and why she’s still inspired by the West Coast even though she now lives in Arkansas.
“I became an artist by default, you could say. I was going through a divorce at the time, and my son—who was a better artist than I—was traveling the country, selling stuff at the New York art exposition and such. I was following him around, took a workshop, and realized, ‘Oh, I can paint.’ Following my divorce, I decided to do something that I love, so I pursued painting. I’ve lived in Fayetteville, which is part of northwest Arkansas, since 2003. It’s been a tough transition; I still don’t feel at home here, but it’s gotten better over time. I grew up in Idaho, and there’s nothing like that landscape with the mountains. And politically, Arkansas is very different. The only reason I agreed to move here is because it’s a university town. There’s more going on than a regular hometown life. Now it’s become more metropolitan—it’s grown by leaps and bounds. Really, the art movement is huge. We’ve got Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art nearby, which has benefited the town immensely.
I started with painting basic landscapes that were accessible to me. It’s been hard for me to paint landscapes in Arkansas because, being from the mountains, I don’t find myself inspired by the vistas here. I’m spoiled, right? I’m really spoiled. There are so many people here who have been raised in Arkansas, and they are truly attached to the land itself. I think it’s the same connection to the land that I come from—the air and the mountains and the pine trees, just those things that you can’t get here.
However, my abstract paintings are inspired by landscapes. If I’m working on an abstract piece, it usually starts with some emotion that I need to process. It helps me vent and work through an issue. A lot of my abstract seascapes are inspired by California and Portland, Oregon, where I went to college. The beach and the West Coast—I miss them. I’ll paint those locations because I flat-out miss them. For example, Blue Wave is inspired by that scenery, and also is a larger metaphor for life. Everything ebbs and flows and swirls in life. And both Cosmic Tides and Blue Wave have interference paints—like metallic and glittering hues—in them, so they look different depending on the lighting and the angle that you view them from.”