• Artist Interview: Shamona Stokes

    Q: What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?

    I try to keep a very steady work schedule in the studio to keep myself grounded, usually coming in 5 days a week. After I turn the key and walk in I think to myself “thank you, I can’t believe this space is mine.” I usually turn on some music or a podcast and then begin working. Work for me is usually broken up into 4 categories: experimental art making, smaller mundane art tasks like pouring molds for ceramics or photographing work, administrative duties, and cranking on occasional graphic design projects. When I’m working on art making I try to create a space of exploration. I might begin with a loose thumbnail sketch or sometimes I just jump right into a painting or sculpture with absolutely no idea as to what will happen. Those are my favorite times….when I’m creating from a pure space of curiosity.


    Q: When do you feel most authentic in your creative practice?

    I feel the most “me” in my art practice when I have a clear schedule blocked out for 2-3 days (which rarely ever happens!). I love blocking out longer periods of time to explore something that I’ve been thinking about: whether that’s a new painting technique, a new series of paintings, or a larger ceramic sculpture. That feeling of being uninterrupted… just listening to music, drinking iced coffee, and being led by my creative spirit is the best feeling. 

    Q: For those who are not familiar with Raku firing, can you explain its origin and meaning? How have you started to implement this technique in your sculptural work?

    Raku firing is an ancient Japanese technique that’s been used for centuries to create a very unique finish to ceramic wares. It’s traditionally crafted by hand and not thrown on a potter’s wheel, which is fitting for me because I only build things by hand. In this process glazed ceramics are taken from the kiln while they’re still glowing pokrer-hot and are then placed in a material that can catch fire, such as sawdust or newspaper. This technique creates a myriad of colors within the glaze and organic elements such as horse hair, leaves, etc. can also be thrown into the embers to create unexpected textures. My work is largely inspired by nature so I love how earthy and elemental this entire process can be. I don’t get to raku-fire very often but whenever I do it feels very special–almost ceremonial. For this reason, I’ve only raku-fired my Venus statues because they feel special enough to deserve this kind of elaborate firing process. I love raku because it creates unique pieces–there’s never a certainty to how the final pieces will turn out and I love the surprise of not knowing. 


    Q: Your sculptures and mixed media paintings explore the imaginary figures and landscapes of the subconscious. Does art serve as a mode of escapism for you?

    I think in one perspective my work might seem escapist. I’m leaving the everyday mundane world behind and crafting my own world that’s filled with imaginary scenes and creatures. This place is not real but exists within the realm of my imagination. From someone else looking in it might feel like escapism. But from my point of view, the emotions that my world stirs up within me feels more real than anything else. I know they’re not real in a tangible way, but I always feel like my imaginary characters are cheering me on in my art practice. This feeling has always been a part of me eversince I was a little kid drawing doodles on the wooden bench in my living room. 


    Q: Focusing on reconnecting to a childish sense of joy and play that is exempt from expectations or pressures towards any final outcome has been an overarching theme within your practice. Why do you feel this is an important sensation to explore?

    I feel like there was a sense of magic to the world when I was a child. I lost that feeling for many years, but had a nostalgic sense hovering over me for most of my life whispering “where is that feeling? what was that feeling?” When I unexpectedly reconnected back to “that feeling” later in adulthood it felt like a sense of coming home again. My artwork is a therapeutic practice for me; it encourages me to always stay connected to the magical child within me. When a piece of my work connects to someone else or inspires them to get in touch with their own inner child than it’s double rewarding for me.


     Q: How do you feel the venus sculpture can create space for dialogue centred around the feminine code and reconnecting with one's authentic self? 

    I believe that all people are comprised of both feminine and masculine energy, and my Venus sculptures represent this feminine energy (rather than a gender norm). Achieving a balance of the two, both yin and yang, is a constant dance for me. I spent most of my life doing, striving, reaching, going, going…. which are considered “masculine” traits. In that overreaching I lost a sense of what was really important to me. At this point in my life I’ve flipped to a more yin or feminine way of being, which is all about finding flow, receiving, and trusting one’s intuition. Authentically living by my own code is a balance of doing/creating and just being/receiving. It took me 41 years to learn this new way of balancing my masculine & feminine energies and I’m so grateful to be aware of it now.   


    Q: You celebrate "alien-ness" by making unique figures: plant creatures that are part flower-part human, sacred-looking space buddhas, and cartoonish fertility statues. How do creative mediums allow you to give a voice and uplift the "outsiders"? Why is this important to you?

    I’ve always felt like an outsider looking in for many reasons. I was a child of immigrant parents which made me feel strange in white suburbia, my father is autistic which made me feel even stranger, and I’m also quite a sensitive person so I’ve always felt like a bit of an alien with three eyeballs. I hate when people are bullied or outed for being different and it’s a firm belief of mine that if people aren’t harming anyone else, than they should be left alone to do as they please. So, for these reasons, I’ve always rooted for the underdog or the weirdo. All of my creatures are strange looking and I create them this way on purpose. Unorthodoxy and a unique point of view should be valued because it’s not easy to follow one’s own voice in a society that tries to make everyone conform to some kind of ideal.


    Q: Headline Gallery is partnering with you to donate a percentage of proceeds made through your venus sculptures to Khalsa Aid. What is your connection to this NGO?

    Thank you for partnering with me on this! I have family in India and was saddened to see the devastation that was caused there by Covid. When I was WhatsApp chatting with my family overseas they mentioned that Khalsa Aid was a reputable charity so I thought it’d be nice to help the situation there in my own small way.


    Q: One lesson you will take with you from enduring the Covid-19 pandemic?

    The most important lesson I learned during the pandemic was how to set boundaries. Sometimes I care too much about others’ feelings to the point where I deplete myself. I learned how to make a cocoon around myself and how to not let toxic things/people/ideas within my space. I’ve never been able to masterfully do this before until the pandemic and all the chaos it kicked up forced me to practice this as a means of self preservation.

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