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Life and Work with Shaelin Jornigan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shaelin Jornigan.

Shaelin, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Much of my early creative energy likely came from my mother. She made quilts, painted, gardened, cooked, decorated, and danced her way through our upbringing. With her encouragement, I began creating as early as I could hold a paint brush.
By the time I reached the end of high school, I had won over 25 awards and stipends from local juried exhibitions in the area, including a scholarship from the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico. There I was welcomed into a community of brilliant professors, including my mentors Raychael Stine, Szu-Han Ho, and Scott Anderson. While working to support myself through college, I went through a lot of growth in my painting practice and learned (sometimes with rude awakenings) about what it means to really pursue art with dedication and conviction. Towards the end of my degree, I was hungry for every art experience I could find – I worked in galleries and with non-profits, I went to exhibitions, I read about artists, I collaborated with bands, I danced, I sought out performances, and – of course – I painted. I practically lived in the painting studio for the last two years of university and had my first solo exhibition, Loose Ends, in March of 2017.
After graduation, I spent my last year in Albuquerque creating and showing work. That year was a real game-changer for me. I showed in seven exhibitions, including four solo exhibitions and was accepted into the Surface: Emerging Artists of New Mexico program at the Harwood Art Center. Each new opportunity fueled my practice and I am still so grateful for that amazing support I received from the community. My final exhibition, Home Whispers, was an homage to the city and my family, complete with a zine of poetry by I curated by local femme and nonbinary writers.
In 2018, my acceptance into New American Paintings prompted me to move to Los Angeles to really dig into my painting practice in a city full of artists and opportunities. When I arrived, I was hired as the Assistant Director at Mash Gallery in DTLA. Immediately I was introduced to a community of artists and curators. I really appreciate being able to work with so many interesting people in such a short period of time, and the feedback I have received about my work.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I think the two biggest challenges I face are self-doubt and making time. All artists face self-doubt in certain moments; if you haven’t, please pass me some of whatever tea you are drinking. A sense of purpose comes from deep inside you and it can be easy to lose sight of, especially in a time where political and environmental concerns can leave one feeling so hopeless. Always, I go back to something I was once told, “You don’t have to solve all the world’s problems with your painting. Your expression is enough.” It is okay to fail. It is okay to experiment. It is okay to have a bad day. It has always comforted me to know that not every painting I make is going to be my best painting, as long as I still come back into the studio the next day and try again. Persistence is more important than perfection – especially when it is hard.
There will always be dozens of things to take your attention off of your practice. Social media makes it so easy to project this facade of clarity and success when the reality may be messier than I like to admit. But it really is simple: make the time to work. You just have to get your ass in the studio, even if it is 90 degrees in the summer. I will admit that sometimes I will go to the studio and I am so burnt out from my day that I can only muster enough energy to sweep the floor. There is still power in sweeping the floor. Trust the process – sometimes the best ideas come just from showing up.

What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
I would say I am best known for my abstract paintings. I like to skirt the edges of portraiture, giving form to atmospheres, objects, impressions, momentum, patterns, and personalities—a whirling representation of what might remain in a portrait when the body is warped or removed altogether. I often joke that my paintings are tying themselves in knots.
My recent works have gotten more personal, with each piece containing a character whose counterpart exists in real life. I may be addressing a feeling, a memory, or telling a story. Every series has a concept behind it – some more whimsical, others touching on controversial topics like sexual assault, sexuality, and gender. My color choices are simultaneously representative and exaggerated (I really love red-orange and use it in every painting). I would also describe my work as lyrical and have been influenced by my background in music and dance.
My love of dance has been a catalyst for my creative process. Though I have not pursued it professionally, I have studied a variety of styles of dance over the course of my life, including jazz, contemporary, hip hop, flamenco, west coast swing, lindy hop, and most recently, salsa and bachata. My dedication to dance, specifically bachata, has only increased since I moved to Los Angeles, and my newest painting series is a representation of my experience as a non-binary, queer individual dancing as both a lead and a follow in the Los Angeles bachata scene.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts or other resources that you’ve benefited from using?
For my fellow artists, I would recommend reading this article from the New York Times. I read it in art school, and I still think about it years later:

Another would be “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I know that many have heard of this book or seen the show on Netflix; but for me, it has been a constant reminder to clear away things that don’t serve me – material possessions and otherwise.

There are also three podcasts I love: Revisionist History, Freakonomics, and Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby. I just find them really entertaining and educational.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Images by Baha Danesh and Shaelin Jornigan

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