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A new exhibit at Fletcher Library features a collection of paintings by artist Shelley Whiting, an alumnus of Arizona State University.
Pleurants were mourning figures that decorated tombs in the Middle Ages. I was drawn to them by seeing their sad eyes and frowning lips. In these paintings, the various-sized pleurant figures are cut out and standing next to each other, with tiny sculptures of toothpaste behind them. Toothpaste used to be in metal tubes, but is now packaged in plastic. Religion often changes in a similar manner as to how everyday objects change. The figures are mourning that adjustment.
My art is influenced by caricature and mural art. When I was fifteen years old, I realized that realism did not capture the emotion or essence of the human experience. So I took a sketch pad and started experimenting with methods of distorting faces. I remember being fascinated by the caricatures of celebrities in Entertainment Weekly. Some were Cubist-inspired and others were more illustrative. After a year of painting celebrity caricatures I started creating caricatures of everyday people, which is what I do today.
I was born into a Mormon family of six children. My family was very active in the church growing up and I can't forget a Sunday where we weren't at church. I grew up in a creative household of writers and artists. My mother was a Mormon historian and published an article in the New Era, a popular Mormon magazine. My twin is a successful short story writer who has published over the internet and in zines. My brother makes his living with grants and helps out with community murals. I was influenced to be an artist with seeing my brother draw around the house. I started drawing when I was twelve but I didn't take art seriously until I was 17, when I realized a fascination for caricature, and later painting things big. Now I spend five to six days a week at Warehouse 1005, an art studio and gallery in the Phoenix art district. I am able to talk about my mental illness and cope with my symptoms through my art. I usually paint one picture a week, and am busy showing art projects around the valley in local businesses and galleries.
My current work consists of portraits, mostly representative of myself, but sometimes caricatures of other people and their inner lives. Lately I have been creating paintings that represent the roles that I play in my life. My recent paintings represent how I might be perceived by my peers coupled with the complicated nature how I view myself. I use my work as a means of defining my spiritual beliefs and my attempts at connecting with the spirituality and individuality of others.
While I have struggled with mental health issues since a very young age, in the past decade I have begun to comprehend through professional help my dual-diagnosis of bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. That dual-diagnosis, on the other hand, does not fully explain what I feel and experience and I still struggle to choose what, if any labels define who I am. As of right now I use art as a form of catharsis. I pour my raw and vulnerable feelings into my work and really don’t care about the comfortability of my work to an audience. I hope the work will show my pain, and that the audience will sympathize with the often depressed and often silly nature of who I am.
For more information, visit shellwhiting.blogspot.com