This week I wanted to open things up a bit and share some new perspectives. I thought it would be fun to get into the mind of Sharon Cory, a brilliant visual artist a painter, to be specific – who once hailed from Winnipeg, Manitoba but has recently relocated to Emerson and has been able to enjoy a thriving career through her art. So, asked her a few questions about her inspiration and her creative process and here’s what she had to say.
Me: When did you discover your love of painting? What attracted you to the medium?
Sharon: I’ve been making things with my hands since I was four or five. I remember that behind our house on Waterford was a factory that made upholstered furniture. There were always heaps of fabric pieces stacked outside in the garbage and I used to haul bags home to make crafts with. Things like doll purses and clothing. I would set up a table on the street and sell to the neighbourhood kids. As soon as I started school, I discovered the world of art materials and I was off and running. I learned from comic books how to shade, and use colour and all my spare time was spent looking at art and trying to copy how it was done. My grandfather was an artist and photographer, and although I was young when he died, I grew up knowing that it was a legitimate profession, although making a living at it was hard. I was the class artist throughout school, but was dissuaded from going into fine arts in university by the guidance counsellor because no one could earn a living at it, which was obviously a common theme. I went into architecture instead, but after the second year, realized that the fine arts faculty was where I should be. I had no interest in painting at that time because I fell in love with pottery…..it was just like being a child again, I spent all my time making things. But eventually I realized that it was the glazing I really enjoyed, the surface decoration.
Me: When did you first begin to identify yourself as an artist? When did you choose to pursue your craft in a professional manner?
Sharon: By my mid-twenties, I was sick of school, dropped out, still missing a few credits and got a job. After working for a few years to pay off student loans, I started to paint. By this time I was married and started having kids. I found that it was pretty easy to make painting a part of the daily routine and the kids were just as involved with their own art projects right alongside me. It was a very easy step into realizing how intrinsic art was to my life and when I sold my first painting, I felt like it could become my profession. It was probably another decade after that I felt like a serious artist, that is, I wanted to make, not just pretty pictures, but work that reflected who I am and how I felt about the world.
Me: On your website you refer to your family history, how your parents came from Lebanon, and speak about the Syrian refugee crisis and how we should be supportive and welcoming of these people in their time of need. You then include a series of works that seem to reflect on this topic and what the refugees are experiencing. How important is it for you to make a statement in your work? Do you always strive to convey a message?
Sharon: For the last twenty years I’ve felt like I’ve found my voice as an artist. I’m confident that the things that interest me visually are of interest to others and that I have the skill to interpret my impressions and opinions. Now that I’ve reached this stage, it’s impossible to go back to a perhaps more innocent kind of Art….you know, little children running through meadows of flowers, for example. There’s nothing wrong with that and often I paint something simple just for fun. But I see the world a certain way, I feel the hurt of war and victims, refugees, people who have suffered injustice. Painting these feelings helps me, in a cathartic way, to accept my powerlessness to right the wrongs.
At the same time, I feel life is wonderful, how people struggle to survive and raise their children is a beautiful process and by recording it, I can share in their struggle. We are all refugees in small ways….we live with fears and anxieties that make us feel like our life could collapse at any time and we have to be prepared to flee to safety. It’s all part of the process of growing. Many of my themes are centred around how women handle these stresses, because of course, that’s what I know.
I really feel it keeps me sane to play out these themes in my work. It’s the particular conversation that I want to have with people who look at my art. That answers question 5. The role of Art is to enable people to have a view into the many aspects of the world that they might not be able to experience physically. That’s why it’s timeless. We can look at a vista painted by Leonardo and feel like we’re living in Renaissance Italy.
Me: Your work has been widely displayed in galleries and you have been commissioned by a number of businesses and organizations. And yet, you also mention on your web site that you have no interest in promoting yourself. To what do you attribute your ability to have a thriving career without all of the self-promotion and hitting the pavement that so many artists dread but feel they must accept as part of getting themselves out there?
Sharon: It used to be the role of galleries and art agents to discover and promote artists whose work they felt was noteworthy or memorable in some way. Somewhere along the way it became more important to promote art that would make money and now things are way out of whack. Art has to have a gimmick to get noticed so artists have taken to promoting themselves. At some point you start feeling like a hooker, so I’ve concentrated on building a body of work and getting it out there by looking for a niche that I could fill. In my case, I found that I could paint recognizable scenes of Winnipeg that were still arty, and sell them to businesses. One or two clients led to ten then a few hundred, etc. Word travels quickly when there’s paintings hanging on the wall. To be successful, though, I had to develop a business attitude and look at my art as a product. This is anathema to most artists, but I could live with it as long as the commercial product was balanced by my own art. I looked at it as my day job that was still a lot of fun, because I was painting after all. I also set parameters for myself. I promised never to produce a painting that I would be embarrassed to sign. I refused to copy anyone else’s work or style. And as much as possible I avoided the middlemen of galleries and agents, and dealt directly with my client base.
Me: And last but not least, do you have any words of wisdom for those just starting out in their creative careers?
Sharon: I’ve spent a lot of time helping artists learn the tricks of making money at their art careers. The best thing they can do is put together a body of work before they start to sell. Through this process they’ll find out who they are, what they have to say, and they’ll get a lot of the embarrassing stuff out of their system. They have to brand their art , make it stand out from everyone else’s and that is a hard thing to do. They also have to find their market, the clients that will appreciate their vision. The world is flooded with good images, because of the net. Seeing good art everywhere can be intimidating and make a young artist feel like they have nothing new to say, so they end up copying. But if you look at the world of music, it’s easy to think that all the good songs have already been written so why bother? And yet, along comes a new hook, a melody that is completely new, a rhythm that hasn’t been heard. In art it’s the same. Technology has only added another way of looking at the world and opening our eyes. On a practical note, I’ve met thousands of artists who have a hard time selling anything, because they’re setting too high a price at the beginning. They want to jump in at the levels of established artists selling in galleries and it just doesn’t work that way. Start low and rise gradually as you get better.
I’d like to thank Sharon for her wisdom and insight. I know I was inspired! To learn more about her work, you can visit www.sharoncory.com .
Have a great day!