SHERYL KEEN

The Internal Revolution.JPG
 

Could you talk a little bit about your creation process in terms of your mixed media works? What materials do you use, and do you have a specific method you stick to when you create?

I use acrylic paints and modeling paste mainly. I also use found objects which can be just about anything from twines, paper, wood etc. I just used a wine cork to make buttons on one of my pieces – Intoxicated. The process is mostly the same and has about four steps. I usually make a sketch of what I am going to create right onto the canvas. The next step involves modeling the image. (I should explain that I use modeling paste to make my images protrude from the canvas. So, most of my paintings are not flat. They are 3D.) Modeling involves using a palette knife to shape the images into being. One of the things I enjoy with the creation process is making my work textured. This means that anything I find that can possibly make texture is used. This would be the third step. Texture gives a completely different look to the entire canvas so that even the spaces around the images become interesting. All the steps in the creation process is fun. However, the last step is most fun. This is where I get to paint. I choose my colours and bring the work together.

Can't Hear your Words through the                            Screaming.JPG
 
 

If you could pinpoint an over-arching theme throughout your work, what would it be? What in particular draws you to that theme?

At the moment, I see three main themes running throughout my work but of course sometimes they overlap. The first theme is the strength, resilience, beauty and grace of women and their ability to balance many things at once. I have started working on a series recently called Carrying. Since the dawn of time women have been carriers.  In many parts of the world women carry water, wood, food, babies, and many other things in order to survive each day. Women carry their babies throughout pregnancy and long after that. Although some of this physical carrying is hard work, women carry their load with strength and grace. But it is not just a physical carrying that I am exploring. Women are mental and emotional carriers as well. This often takes the form of taking on other people's issues and carrying them until the matter is resolved in some way. I am drawn to this theme because I have been carried by so many women in my life. The second theme is faces/masks. I use the two words interchangeably because each can become the other. I am particularly interested in how we use our faces as mask to disguise our true feelings, sometimes successfully, other times unsuccessfully. The first thing we tend to look at on a person is their face especially if we are trying to gauge their feelings. This is why I am interested in this theme. The third theme is the internal struggle which we all have from time to time. People change and evolve and this change usually starts internally. We struggle with this self evolution/revolution in our heads before it extends itself outward for others to see. As an artist, there is a world of internal struggle and then just as a person in life. I’ll always be drawn to this theme because the struggle and evolution of a person is fascinating to see.

The Innate Insurrection.JPG
 
 

The colors you use are just gorgeous. Can you go into detail about what role color plays in your work?

Thanks for saying that. Colours are very important because they help to evoke emotions and mood. For a long time, I would choose the colours before I started painting but increasingly the creation process is a little more organic. Now I start painting and let the colours reveal themselves. I love vivid colours that pop because they in turn light up the space that the art will occupy. Since a lot of my art is 3D, I use colour to make the art literally come alive. The work of art seems to become a living, breathing thing - art personified. 
I also layer my paints. Starting with dark colours and ending with lighter ones. This gives the painting more depth and depth brings vivacity and a certain complexity. The work is not just seen on the surface, but becomes bottomless. Apart from the image(s) and the texture in the works, the colours are everything. They are used to pull the viewer in and illicit a response.

 
 

Your works are often accompanied by short poems. Could you elaborate on that pairing - how do you choose which poem to put with which work of art? Do you write the poem first, or create the art first?

It’s a natural pairing for me because I see them as similar things. Writing and art both tell stories; we just use words for one and paint for the other. It is great when you can use them to complement each other. When I am painting I sometimes see and hear the words of the poems. Those are the ones I write after or even during creation of the artwork. Can’t Hear Your Words Through the Screaming is one such work. The words for this piece were so clear that I did not even think too much about it because the image was also strong and clear in my mind. In a world where everyone is screaming; no one can hear. The essence of what we are saying just gets lost. But sometimes I challenge myself to create artwork for previously written poems like Waiting in Vain which is a poem I wrote years ago. The art work was created just last year. Art and writing literally merge in my head. Most of the themes I write about are the same things I paint about. Waiting in Vain, the poem, is about someone waiting on a love interest to reciprocate and all the anxiety that comes with waiting. There is an internal struggle that just rages on in a situation like this. The artwork has the same theme but because it is abstracted, it can be interpreted in many ways. 

 
Girl with the Hair.JPG
 

Is there an element of self-portraiture in your work? If so, do you find that it helps or heeds you to incorporate your personal experiences into your work?

I have not intentionally placed any elements of self-portraiture in my work. However, I believe that some part of me as the artist will find its way in the work. My thoughts, my point of view, my messages are depicted in the piece so it’s hard to escape being in the work on that level. There are pieces of my work that people have asked if it’s a self portrait. A piece like Girl with the Hair always gets that question. The answer is no but it always seems like such a disappointing answer to the person asking the question. The look on his/her face always says, I wish it was you. I do plan to do a self portrait at some point but people might not realize it’s me because of how abstracted it might be. Girl with the Hair is a totally random girl I painted who has a cool, artsy hairstyle. Every time I get the question about her being my self portrait, I go back and look at her. She looks like me. This makes me think that as artists we may be painting one big self portrait all the time without even knowing it.

 
 

Your work leans more to the abstract. Could you tell us a little bit about why you gravitate towards that style as opposed to realism?

I can’t say for certain. It’s just that way. The abstract is a place where I feel comfortable but it is also a place that challenges me to come up with creative ways to get my story across. I feel that I can say more and make the work more interesting with the use of abstraction. It also provides a certain freedom to delve deeper into ideas that need fleshing out. There are many lines in my work that sort of carve up and dissect the images. I love dismantling the images, making pieces from the whole, and yet keeping it together. Abstraction, for me, lends itself to more innovative work. I take the path that is less travelled and see what I can come up with.

 

Let's move on to your writing. You have two books out - what should we know about them? Who's the ideal audience for your writing?

Lost at Runningbrook Trail is for young adults. It tells the story of four teenagers who are lost in the woods, unprepared for the dangers that lurk around them. They soon discover that every new and terrifying experience brings them face to face with their limitations. In the end, they put their survival skills to the test as they come to terms with their fears and tenaciously fight to keep the lives they once took for granted. The core story is about being lost physically and mentally and the weird and unexpected ways in which we can find ourselves. Journal According to John was written with adults in mind. John is recently divorced from his wife and is trying to make sense of his failed marriage by writing in his journal. He is a therapist specializing in behavioral issues and he knows he has to pull his own life together. If he tells people to clean up their own lives, modify their thoughts, and learn new, more appropriate behaviours, he knows that he’s got to step up and follow his own advice. He blames his mother for his thoughts, actions and failed marriage. But just how much can he blame her for his current state of affairs? Soon the words in the journal are flowing. When painful thoughts are no longer avoided and dreams provide fuel for his writing, the journal takes on a life of its own. Will John discover the reasons for his dysfunctional situation? Can keeping the journal help him improve his life?

 
Coping with the Holes in my                          Head.JPG
 

Do you find that it's difficult to carve out time for writing in your daily life? What do you do when you're feeling stuck in terms of penning new work?

It’s difficult to carve out writing time and art time because I have a full-time job. However, carve I must. When I am stuck I’ll take a break. It could be a short break – like taking a walk and coming back. Or it could be an extensive break – like a week or two to recharge. But I find that most of the times all that I really need to do is just sit down and plod along. Even if I write only one paragraph for the entire day. Even if I only use one sentence from that paragraph. The art of doing and continuing on will get me unstuck. Creativity can be un-glamourous as any other thing when that burst of inspiration is not there. I wrote a blog about Finding Inspiration in the Grind and that is what all creatives who find themselves stuck should seek to do. Some amount of plodding is necessary sometimes.

 
 

You mention in a previous interview that your biggest challenge with your book Journal According to John was writing from a male perspective. As a woman, how did this affect your writing process? Did you do anything specific to immerse yourself in a male-centric world?

I did wonder about writing with a man’s mind which I do not have. But creativity allows me the freedom to explore and since there are millions of men in the world a couple of them must be like John. The human condition is really the same all around. While I was writing the book, I spoke with a few men about the story and about journal writing. I found them most resistant - on the surface - to journaling. It is not something that most of them would do. If they did write in a journal, it would not be something that they would make public. I found that if I moved pass the surface and got to the core of the matter men struggle with many issues that some of them would bury in a journal without telling anyone. Some of what they told me about their struggles is incorporated in the book and specifically, in John. 
 

According to your website, you've got a third book in the works. Would you mind telling us a little bit about that?

At the moment, I am leaning more towards an art book instead of fiction. It would be selected pieces accompanied by a couple words about the pieces themselves and how it relates to any of my major themes.  
 

 

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