MEMBER FEATURE:

SHEILA LANHAM, Artist

Our Monthly Member Feature sees us interview Rockella Space Member Sheila Lanham about her work, and her studio at Rockella Space.

Artist and Poet Sheila Lanham was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She lives and works in Ridgewood, Queens, NY and has been a Rockella Space Member since last year. Her studio is at One Eyed Studios.

To learn more about the creatives who call Rockella Space home, head over to the People page for a full list of in-depth interviews.

 

The Dreamers, 50″x40″ o/c 2024

 

Photo: Rocio Segura

Who are you and what do you do?

 

My name is Sheila Lanham. I was born and raised Baltimore, Maryland. I started out as a poet, moved to NYC at 22, met artist Larry Rivers within a month, was quickly surrounded by artists, and naturally drawn to painting. I found the process for both very similar. I studied poetry and art at the New School and the School of Visual Arts in NYC, and finished as a painting major at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art).

How long have you been at Rockella Space and what is your favorite thing about having a studio at One Eyed Studios?

 

I moved my painting studio here in April 2023. Since I had worked solely in a home studio for years, with this studio, I sought a space for producing large scale paintings. The natural light is great here.

 

View of Sheila’s Studio at One Eyed Studios

Have you connected and/or created a community with any other artists in the building?

 

I have met several artists in the building. With different work schedules, most artists keep to theirselves and make the most of their time here. It is motivating to know that other dedicated artists are also working in the building.

I had a terrific talk with Eunice CHEN Yuyue, Curator-in-Resident at Level Gallery supported by Rockella Space. Over-Compression, the result of Eunice’s research, is currently showing at One Eyed Studios.

Tell us about your work. What inspires you to create the work that you do?

 

Poetry inspires me. I often think in poetic phrases when working. For the past several years, I have been thinking about our culture of accumulation. I began subconsciously stacking up landscape horizons as far back as the 1990s.

How do you start a work? Tell us about your process.

 

I make a lot of automatic sketches that may or may not include figurative elements. I begin from my subconscious.

 

The Sisterhood, 20″x16″ o/c 2024

Can you elaborate on your artistic journey and how it has led you to your current focus on the theme of accumulations in your work?

 

A main focus of my practice has been the rearrangement of landscape space, which I wanted to convey a changed environment, but a unified sense of place. Within those rearrangements, I was stacking up horizons.

After more than a decade of a wretched custody battle, during which I did not paint, I returned to poetry. When I returned to painting in 2011, I started where I had left off. By 2013 my work was again stacking landscape elements and natural forms. Figurative elements would pop up, and I do not restrain from what occurs naturally, in order to otherwise squash a vision into a preconceived format.

You mentioned your World View series involved collages made from landscape photographs. Could you discuss the significance of landscape in your work and how it has evolved over time?

 

I grew up in Baltimore, but we spent summers in the Appalachian mountains in West Virginia. The deep cuts made through mountain in order to build winding roads is a strong image in my memory. The coal mines, strip-mining, national forests that we frequented, all played a part in my love of landscapes, perhaps especially the dark and bleak ones. WVA really was wild and wonderful (their official motto).

I use collage frequently, It was a strong teaching concept at MiCA, and you can see that influence in other MICA artists, like the late Donald Baechler. The World View series came about when i found a full set of 1967 World Book Encyclopedias on the street. I was fascinated by the odd coloration of the landscape photography. It was a prime opportunity for a collage project, and I began to cut out random shapes from within the landscape photos. I began to stack the segments, within the realm of my longstanding concerns: our changing environment and our perception of it. I made 75 collages, and 15 paintings and 14 drawings based upon them over two years.

 

View of Sheila’s Studio at One Eyed Studios

How do you approach the process of stacking preliminary sketches in your Profiles series? What role does abstraction play in transforming these sketches into final pieces?

 

After the World View series and the pandemic, I felt a need for my work to be more personal and humanistic, and naturally figurative elements appeared. My concerns expanded: from our changing environment, to that of a response to our changing humanity and often, multiple identities. Our culture of accumulation is expressed in my work through both landscape and figurative elements.  So, I had started out as a painter of figures in minimal landscapes, moved on to minimal landscapes with rearranged spatial concepts, and have basically  returned to figurative and other imagery within a minimal environment.

With the Profiles series, I began stacking automatic sketches. It seemed a natural transition. I transfer the resulting abstract drawing onto canvas and minimally edit it into a composite form that appeals to me. At this point, I am still dealing with an abstract composition. I then rely upon a poetic response to forms – or image association – as I begin to paint. I tune into these forms, and at some point, the various fragments reveal images to me as objects, figurative elements, profiles, landscape vistas, or purely abstract forms, and become one unified form. In this sense, I achieve the opposite of the cubists who fragmented forms and space, since I concoct a solid form from many fragments.

My process is more like composing a poem, in that I have a general idea of my concerns, but it must be born from the abstract, and naturally lead me down a path. That path guides me through what affects me most today: the chaos of our culture of accumulations, our isolation, environmental and humanistic changes. I found that as things began to stack up in my paintings, they were similar to a list poem: an accumulation of seemingly unrelated images that eventually conjure one concept or solid form.

When I title the paintings in this series, I reflect upon the idea of identity today. How we create our composite, how we interpret ourselves, and the current tendency of human categorizations (ie. The Secret Shopper, The Dreamers, The Influencers).

 

 Dreamgirl, 50″x40″ o/c 2023

In your artwork, you mentioned creating colossal, centralized accumulated forms. What draws you to the idea of creating such monumental structures, and what do you hope viewers take away from encountering them?

 

The monumentality of Hans Holbein’s portraits (ie. Henry the VIII) fascinate me. Those huge seated figures in accumulations of layers of fabrics and jewels, made monumental and powerful by sheer compositional form. I also love Giotto,  his compositions of solid-form robes and figures. And, I have spent a lot of time in southern Mexico. I love Maya culture and archaeology: who were experts at stacking (stones, temples, figurines). A milestone in my life was seeing several Olmec colossal heads in person in Xalapa, Veracruz.

I hope the take-away from my work is how our culture of excess adds up. How the daily bombardment of imagery aimed at us through the internet, and in the increasing complexity of our existence, affects our subconscious perceptions. We  are walking accumulations of our own experiences, Plus those thrust upon us. My work evolves from subconscious experiences and these works are personal totemic visions.

 

The Film Buff, 54″x40″ o/c 2024

Can you discuss the use of patterns within your work? How do patterns contribute to the visual language of your cumulative forms, and what significance do they hold within your artistic practice?

 

My mother and I sewed nearly all of my clothing through high school. During my entire childhood, I participated in family quilting bees in West Virginia every summer at my aunt’s farm. During the quilting, I was assigned to cut squares out of fabrics using a cardboard maquette. To this day, I love fabric stores–a sea of patterns and solids.

I begin by painting solids and working out color. Eventually, my approach to a painting involves a subconscious association of pattern to form. After the fact, I have found references to patterns in skirts I made, scarves I’ve owned, and even upholstery from our home in my paintings.

Which artists have influenced you and your work?

 

Early on, I was influenced by artists in the New Image Painting exhibition at the Whitney: Moskowitz, Africano, their isolated images in minimal environments. I feel my work has an “American spirit” influenced by artists Hartley, Hopper and Diebenkorn.

 

Carpentero (Mexico Works series, digital photography), Oaxaca de Juarez, 2019

What projects/exhibitions have you got coming up?

 

I am currently included in three Ridgewood Open Studios 2024 exhibitions this month, including Over-Compression curated by Eunice CHEN Yuyue at Level Gallery here at One Eyed Studios.

I continue to work on the Profiles painting series.

I continue to edit my ongoing documentary photography project, Mexico Works, which focuses on profiles of innovative small business owners in southern Mexico and their workspaces. I am very intrigued by their utilitarian placement of objects.

I am also working on my archives and constantly making works on paper in my home studio.

 

The Weekenders, 72″x60″ o/c 2023

Where can people see your work?

 

They can visit sheilalanham.com; contact Gibson Contemporary, or visit my market page at the artmobia website.

How can people contact you for a studio visit?

 

Instagram messaging @sheilalanhamnyc

 

Secret Shopper, 72″x60″ o/c 2023