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Shelly Pamensky - creating effervescent colour gradients based on thoughts, memories and feelings

London United Kingdom

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Shelly is a visual artist, raised in South Africa, of Israeli origin and now working from her studio in North London. She completed a Law degree in South Africa and is a self-taught artist who turned her attention to painting after a career in the City of London, alongside having three children. Her shimmering paired back colour field paintings explore a process of mixing unconventional materials to create a surface where glitter, paint and pigment particles coalesce to incantatory effect. Shelly has produced numerous commission pieces for private individuals and restaurants and collaborated with interior designers such as Kelly Hoppen. She has exhibited in group shows and Art Fairs such as The Really Affordable Art Fair, Roys Art Fair and The Other Art Fair. The artist works from her home studio in London, where she lives with her three children.

Shelly, you are a self-taught visual artist of Israeli origin who was raised in South Africa and currently resides in North London, UK. Please tell us a little about your background and your former career.

I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, where after school, I completed a BA (LLB) (a Law degree) and following that, I also studied postgraduate studies in Business Administration. As soon as I completed studying, I left my home to settle in London, where I worked in the City, first in Law firms and after that in Banking. It may sound like art was not part of my life, but it was, and I had taken it as a final subject at school and, after that, painted intermittently at home during my tertiary education. Painting always felt like something I could do, just like it was a part of me.

What was your journey into the art world like?

My journey into the art world was and still is unconventional. I studied art as one of my final year subjects at school and already loved painting, having had my father, who painted oils at home, as his hobby. Finishing school left me at a crossroads between creative and academic studies, and I opted for the latter, which I sometimes regret. Still, it gave me the confidence to feel that I could leave South Africa and earn a living in London. During my first pregnancy, whilst I was working in Banking, my beloved father passed away in South Africa, which was a turning point for me. Complications with my pregnancy meant I had to stop working, and after the birth of my daughter, I began to paint at home. I taught myself and fell in love with oils. I continued to paint alongside having three children and started selling my work. Approximately a decade later, after a divorce, I stopped painting as I didn’t have the headspace or studio space, and I turned most of my attention to my children. It was in 2019 that I decided to start painting again. A lot of time passed, and I had changed so much that although I started where I had left off, in oils, I soon began experimenting, and my work evolved into a mixed-media approach. I am on this journey of making art; it has become part of my everyday life and very much defines who I have become and am still becoming.

Can you describe your art practice and the process behind making your mixed-media work?

My first love in painting is colour. I feel so connected to colour, its expressive qualities, physical properties and the process of mixing, layering, and juxtaposing it. It really puts me in a state of flow, so my work is primarily reduced to using colour as my main subject and form of expression. In addition, I have always been drawn to sparkle, so I used to paint star-studded backgrounds in oils. Still, experimenting with mica and glitter as materials with innate shine moved me away from oils and towards a mixed media approach. I looked for ways to colour the glitter, which drew me to develop a technique of spraying delicate veils of paint over glitter and pigment-encrusted canvas in a layering process, using airbrush and spray guns.

Today I work with this process of creating these effervescent colour gradients, to which I may add words based on my thoughts, memories and feelings or emojis (hearts, clouds, rainbows, drops) as influenced by the social media landscape. Sometimes I also disassemble these shimmering gradients, cut them into strips and recreate them into patterned woven versions of themselves. This leads me to think of these paintings as being more sculptural. The weave wraps around the edges, making it three-dimensional, and now I am making paintings where the weave extends beyond the frame of the painting. I am excited to see where this will head. My art practice is very experimentative and constantly evolving, and I spend a lot of time trying new things because I am self-taught and driven to take ideas further.

What is the message behind your art?

For me, the process of making work is so deeply engaging, and now that my kids are older, it fills me with such a sense of purpose on a daily basis. I think about it all the time. It is at once frustrating, and at other times I get into such as state of flow, which is so calming and spirits me away from the stresses of everyday life. This calming impact on my psyche is imprinted in my work and reflected in its visually calming aesthetic. It is like looking through a window of meditative calm. Although the outside world influences my work, I want it to serve as an antithesis to its frenzy, and it's really all about finding inner peace both for me in its making and the calming effect it can have on the viewer.

What and who inspires your work the most?

Initially, I started painting to feel closer to my dad after he passed, so the memory of him and the sense of purpose the creative path gives me inspires me to paint. Visually I am inspired by the colours in the world around me. Having lived half my life in South Africa and the other half in London, my palettes can appear in the muted, gentle tones of London or those reminiscent of sunsets in Africa. My work is also inspired and influenced by fashion and the inescapable frenzied world of social media. My work manifests in the iconic weaves of Bottega Veneta and the striped colours of Missoni. I also use emojis selected from social media: hearts, rainbows, and clouds, all of which add an element of pop art playfulness to my work in contrast to more serene and gentle colour washes.

What has been the most exciting moment in your art career so far?

The most exciting moment has been showing my work at The Other Art Fair in London. Being selected to show my work alongside some very talented artists, making the collection and representing myself and the people and connections made it an enriching experience. It was a goal of mine to show my work there, so it was good to achieve it.

You are a mother of three children and work from your home studio. Do you involve your children in your art practice? If not, how do you schedule your time in the studio with a busy household (tips)?

Unfortunately, my children are not very involved in my practice. My eldest daughter took Art for her A level, and I’d like to think I inspired her. Sometimes I manage to convince them to help me with social media, taking photos and videos of me, but otherwise, my home studio is where they know they will always find me. I make it a rule that they come first. As an artist navigating the art world today, your work is never done. If you’re not making work, there is a long list of other things to do; social media presence, updating your website, uploading to platforms, emails, submissions, and getting your work seen, so there is a real danger of neglecting family and friends. I make it a rule to down tools in favour of the people in my life, so if it’s my kids, my partner or a friend who needs me, that comes first and the rest of the time, I fill it with work.

What are your plans and goals (short-term or long-term)?

My long-term goal is to be a working artist, to make work, show it and sell it. In the short term, I am working on making my work more visible online and in real life. I plan to display it in central London offices, show it as part of a marketing campaign for a fantastic jewellery brand, add a shop to my website, and participate in online exhibitions, including one for Art Mums! Later this year or next, I would like to participate in another art fair or group show.

What aspects of your art practice do you find the most challenging?

I love making work. I wish all I could be is an artist, but there is so much else involved, especially since I represent myself, as I mentioned before, and it’s all challenging because of the time it takes. I wish to have help with social media! So the work is never done, but I see it as a journey and a process with no real end point.

What is the number advice you’d give to fellow artists transitioning from a completely different career to a full-time artist?

It is best to make the transition slowly. Wait until you feel there is enough momentum behind your practice to afford to give up your career. If done prematurely, the stress can smother creativity, and creative expression is one of the main drivers to make anyone want to change. I am always in some rush, and it makes me feel like I am failing at being an artist, but when I occasionally look back, I can see how far I have come. For as long as you can do both, do so. This increases the chances of success.

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