Shaina invited me into her warm & cozy studio to talk a little bit about her work..but mostly to listen to slowed down Beatles records, drink wine, and stare deeply into the eyes of Bitten the cat. Photos + interview after the jump:
EC:Where did you grow up?
EC:Did you go to college there?
SH:No, I went to school in Boston...Massachusetts College of Art.
EC:You studied painting?
SH:No,no..I studied conceptual performance art.
What I studied in school was sort of open-ended critique based art-making.
EC:Were you ever formally trained as a painter, then?
SH:No. well, I took one painting class in college..right when I was ready to finish my degree.
My teacher was like, “You already seem to know what you’re doing, so I’m going to let you do what you wanna do.” I was also sort of uncooperative. I was just going to do what i wanted to do anyway, so that’s what I did there.
EC:But it seems like you have a good handle on some formal ideas in painting..your shadows and colors, etc..did you teach yourself that stuff then?
SH:Kind of. My Grandmother is a painter. My Grandma and Grandpa are not formally trained either, but they’ve been painting as a hobby for a long time. When I was a kid, my Grandmother would give me watercolor lessons and we would paint the same landscape or something.
Then when I was in the 9th and 10th grade I would go to the junkyard and steal things to paint portraits on...and thats definitely when all of this started.
EC:So you started out with portraits.
SH:Mhmm. It’s always been portraits of people on found objects..usually no background, usually from life or from photobooth pictures.
EC:Why are you interested in painting people?
SH:Because they are portals to other dimensions and knowledge and different places.
EC:Are there qualities in people, or about people.. that you like painting more than others..or do you not think about it?
SH:I like people who have some kind of hyper gender identity going on.
That’s something that has always interested me. But um..recently, for the past couple of years when I’ve been painting from life, I’ve been wanting someone who has an “inward appearance”..someone who will give themselves up to me .Musicians and performers tend to do a pretty good job with that. I really want them to just give it to me...to sit and give me who they are for hours, which is a lot to ask.
EC:It is a lot to ask.
SH:You see all the mirrors in my room?
SH:They’re for people who come sit for me..so they can see themselves. I don’t tell them like...“Sit here so you can suddenly see what you look like while sitting for me” but sometimes I will tell them.
It helps, though. if they can see themselves being here.
We’re about to go to a weird time in here..the hour sort of between five and six when it looks kind of grey, but if you turn the lights on it’s not right. It looks really dull for a little while.
EC:I think it’s actually called "the golden hour." Maybe indoors its called "the grey hour."
SH:It’s a big long compromise [people sitting for a painting] . Sometimes it just doesn't work out.
I recently started asking people to bring books to read while they sit for me. It has worked out pretty nicely. It helps me get to know them. It helps them relate to me by reading to me out loud.
EC:Would you prefer for someone to come sit for you as opposed to working from a photograph?
SH:Yes..for the same reason I would like someone to hear me play a song for them on my guitar in real life vs. to listen to one of my recordings..any day. And I love the company..and the pressure and intensity that is having someone here with me. What if it doesn't work out? What if I mess up? It creates a better painting for sure. I’ve never really thought about it like that before.
Sometimes I will work for an hour and a half on a portrait, and then within five minutes it becomes that person, so I stop painting it. It’s over. Thats why a lot of those paintings don’t have feet or hands or backgrounds..its because it was done before I got to any of that.
Sometimes it’ll be them in like, twenty minutes..and I’ll stop. I get a lot of criticism for that.
SH:Yeah, for having unfinished-looking paintings.
EC:They don’t understand why you won’t just finish it?
SH:People will actually say to me, “This would be worth an extra two-hundred dollars if it were more finished-looking.” The ones that took longer to get down to the point..they’re the ones that are “worth more”..money.
EC:So which do you like better?
SH:The raw ones, hands down.