Shawna’s work will be on display at Borough Gallery & Studio as part of the exhibition “The Place You Hang Your Hat” until Friday, December 4th.

Shawna Cross "Worth It For the Mending (chant's end) Oil on Vintage Sheets and Canvas

Shawna Cross "Worth It For the Mending (chant's end)" Oil on Vintage Sheets and Canvas

Borough Gallery & Studio: You use writing to kind of tap your memory, so are your paintings representative of your memory, or of the writing you do?  That is to say, do the images bubble up while you write, or does the process come in stages?

Shawna Cross: My writing and my paintings are one in the same. Neither is complete without the other, but I wouldn’t say that one is a more dominant reflection than other, in the same way that I wouldn’t say lyrics in a song simply represent their accompanying melody; they’re coming from the same emotion and string of thought. My mind tends to move quickly, wander far, and become cluttered with the relationships between a variety of differing ideas. When it comes to expression it can be disastrous to get a clear idea out since its roots are under so many layers of ideas that came so quickly afterwords, and since my emotions change so quickly. When it comes to painting the process usually starts with me listening to the same song on repeat to stay focused, scribbling furiously within a notebook to channel the core of what I’m trying to express. The images are already in my mind, but writing taps further into my passion, shaping up the colors and forms I already envision, webbing a structured relationship between them. The colors become richer as I understand where they’re coming from, the movement becomes clear as I understand why I was initially led to feel the way I do. Rhythm is really important to me, and without writing-purging and exploring these pent up ideas that come out only in abstracted phrases which hold no place in common conversation-my paintings have none, they look as chaotic as my palette and no solution is ever found.

BGS: Sounds like painting is a fraught journey through yourself.  How do
you know and how does it feel when you’ve arrived at a finished work?

SC: Knowing when a painting is done is always complicated. The very last portion of the process always comes down to pure aesthetics, stepping back and stepping away for a few days to see if, visually, anything can be improved, or if the painting has successfully captured the moment I was trying to create and will evoke emotions from the viewer. But sometimes that point comes before I’ve fully resolved what I’m personally expressing, which is when a series is born and multiple paintings wander through the same theme. When a series is finished it feels huge…like gaining closure on a period of time and closing a chapter. Sometimes it feels invigorating, and sometimes it feels unsettling, it depends on the subject matter. It’s just like life; often you feel like there is more to be said or done within a situation or within a relationship, but you know within yourself that it’s time to walk away because nothing more can come from it and it’s time to open your eyes to something new. Finishing a painting or a series is one of those moments that’s hard to define, it’s a complete combination of mental, physical and emotional satisfaction. How do you know when you’re done with a certain location and are ready to move, or when you’re ready for bed, you’re full, you’re done having sex, or you’re finished with a relationship? You’re either satisfied, exhausted, or your mind starts to wander elsewhere-but either way, you know you’re done.

Shawna Cross "Mute To Our Own Desires (hushed stories and sincere promises)" Oil on canvas, 33" x 30.5"

Shawna Cross "Mute To Our Own Desires (hushed stories and sincere promises)" Oil on canvas, 33" x 30.5"

BGS: Is there a period of release after you’ve finished a painting, or an
intense series, where the next work has yet to form?  What do you do when creative energy is at a shallow point?

SC: Yes, definitely. After I’ve finished a series of paintings it takes some time to move towards the next one. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, but there have been times where it’s taken months. Those periods of time are so intense for me. At first I feel kind of beat and I’m happy to take a break, but then I get so restless. I find myself traveling and exploring the most during those times, staying really busy and fully engaging myself in foreign and familiar surroundings, activities and people. You have to live and experiment in order to grow and have anything to say that’s worth mentioning. The paintings I do in the in between moments seem lifeless to me. I end up taking a little hiatus until my inspiration is at its peak and then I paint with a fury. I also have a lot of half started projects that come about while I’m not painting…that’s when I decide I’m going to learn to cook, or re-paint my room, or teach workshops; anything to maintain a creative outlet.

BGS: Is there a time of day or place when the muse is particularly close?
Do you find sunrise, or midnight, home or a hilltop that has an energy
that jives with your brain?

SC: Yeah, painting during the day is a total wash for me, it’s really rare that you’ll see me working in the studio when the sun is out, unless it has just come up. I don’t know if it’s just a lingering response to having been a student for so many years, when the beginning portion of the day is spent absorbing and collecting and the evening was my time to reflect and set loose energy in my own way or what, but when the sky starts to turn, usually between the hours of 7pm and 7am, that’s when my creativity lunges forward. There’s something about the serene quietness of nighttime and the unique energy of nightlife that I find particularly inspiring…the unique quality of chaos and urgency in getting the most out of the remainder of your day, simultaneously mixed with relaxation and reflection is something that I really respond to. I wouldn’t say there is a particular place that inspires me as much as movement and energy do. I’ll often leave parties or concerts and head straight to the studio and work for the rest of the night, or sometimes get out of bed at 2am and head in. The blanket of night makes everything seem secretive, like all actions and words are a shared whisper between me, my canvas, and a few very select ears, and I really dig that. Daytime just seems too loud, I don’t feel as free.

Shawna Cross "Steps in Patches (more wine)" Oil on canvas, 28" x 22"

Shawna Cross "Steps in Patches (more wine)" Oil on canvas, 28" x 22"

BGS: Shawna, as your gallery-mate, when the hell do you sleep?

SC: I don’t. I’m super woman you see, and earl gray is my defense against the sandman. I’ve just forgotten to mention it to you throughout the year. You should see the goggles I have, they’re so sweet, they accent my painting apron perfectly. And this is why I’m so spacey. Actually, if you ever came into the studio really early in the morning, between 4 and 5 maybe, it’s possible that you’d see me crashed out somewhere…somewhere where I can “just take a little break and get back to it”, like sitting upright in the chair by my painting space with my palette knives in hand. I’m actually really glad we have the futon upstairs now because let me tell you, no matter how many coats you shove under your head, that floor is not comfortable. Honestly, I usually have really bad nightmares most nights, so sleep isn’t really a priority for me, being awake is way more fun. Instead I space out during really inappropriate times, usually when someone is giving me directions.

Shawna Cross Studio

Shawna's studio in Burlington, VT

For more information on Shawna go here. See her work in person at Borough until Friday, December 4th.