We are delighted to publish the eighteenth of our new styled interview entitled ‘Mobile Artists on Their Artistry’. Within this interview, we ask highly successful mobile artists twenty questions about their backgrounds, their work, social media, how Covid-19 has influenced their creative life and so much more…
Today, we are proud to feature Award Winning mobile artist Phyllis Shenny who resides in New Jersey, United States. Shenny teaches therapeutic mobile art within the Cancer Support Community to help patients process what they are going through in a creative way.
To read our other interviews in this series with Jane Schultz, Susan Latty, Cindy Karp, Sukru Mehmet Omur, Deborah Kleven Morbeto, Patty Larson, Adrian McGarry, Catherine Caddigan, Rita Colantonio, Sarah Bichachi, Marco Prado, Mehmet Duyulmuş Gerry Coe, Cynthia Morgan, Christine Mignon, Mariëtte Schrijver and Peter Wilkin please go here.
All images ©Phyllis Shenny
How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know your work?
Hello. My name is Phyllis Shenny. I am an artist who mainly works in digitally altered photography. (if asked I add -) Some of my work is strictly abstract but still starts as photography. Some is photographic in nature. My medium is my iPhone and I also teach this in the Cancer Support Community as a positive way to de-stress.
What name do you use within social media and was this a conscious decision?
My name on Instagram and my website is ArtnSoul.biz. I created this name a few years ago and it stuck.
What kind of family did you grow up in?
I am an only child. My father worked for the US Post Office and my mother was a stay at home mom until I went to college. I grew up in Brooklyn NY. I had a grandma and a few aunts and uncles and cousins. My parents were very loving supporting people. I was very close to my mother. We are Jewish but not terribly religious.
My mother kept a kosher home and lit candles on Friday night, but I was 12 when I learned kosher meant you’re not supposed to eat it outside either. Things were different then. There weren’t mentors or as much guidance as we gave our kids. We weren’t wealthy but we had everything we needed and there were tons of kids just outside my building to play with.
Did your childhood influence your ideas about creativity?
I don’t really know the answer to this. I always liked art. I remember being a very small child and watching Captain Kangaroo and waiting for my favorite part of the show which was when they brought out the shoebox with the arts and crafts items. I do know once I wanted a bicycle which my father was terribly afraid to get me, (he had a cousin who was killed on a bike and there wasn’t a safe place to ride where we lived) and instead they got me an art set. I was very social and loved friends but also shy and enjoyed quiet art time. I remember at about 6 years old making a friend and thinking this was the first person I “related” to. She was also artistic and more sensitive.
Did your parents support your creativity?
Yes, yes and yes. Both my parents were artistic in different ways. My mother drew and wrote funny poems. She loved art and took me to museums and encouraged me. My father was a champion Rhumba dancer and from what I heard also sang. I think he really wanted to be in the arts. He was tall and handsome, but I heard he once had a singing audition and froze. He offered me modern interpretive dance classes when I was around 12 and I stupidly said no. They always supported anything creative I did and encouraged me to go to Parson’s.
When was the first time you knew you wanted to be an artist?
By high school for sure. I had an amazing art teacher in high school who really encouraged me, and when I learned about graphic design I was sold. However, back in 1961 Mad magazine had a cover which had the 1961 upside down and right side up and it was the same in both directions and I was amazed and wanted to do things like that. I was less than 8 at that time.
That may have been when I made the decision to be a designer. I do remember in elementary school I didn’t get the best artist award but got penmanship instead and I wasn’t too happy.
What is creativity to you?
Creativity to me isn’t a physical thing or a medium. It’s a way of seeing and thinking. The ability to see something where there was nothing or something in a way it hasn’t been before. (A camera is a great tool to experiment with creativity.) A solution to a problem.
We “create” our life, means to decide what we want and make it happen instead of just rolling with the punches and letting it happen to you. I tell people who say they aren’t creative that they dressed themselves nicely, made good meal, wrapped a gift. All those are creativity. But as a creative person specifically to me its being able to see an opportunity whether visual, written or other and turning it into something that communicates to others. Solving problems is a sort of creativity.
What did you do before (if appropriate) becoming an artist?
I went to school.
Where are you most creative?
Do you mean what location or what activity? Location wise I love to photograph towns and cities, architecture and street life. From another standpoint I’m most creative behind a camera or on my iPad. I’m also pretty creative in a debate. (lol)
What inspires you?
Color, light, texture, shape. Interesting relations of one thing to another. Sometimes beauty and sometimes ugly. My work is very visual. I’m not making political statements – I do that much better with words. I take photos arbitrarily sometimes and just see something in one and take it somewhere. Seeing innovative applications of new software also inspires me.
Who inspires you?
First of all I get a lot of inspiration from my family who always supports me. Many artists have inspired me. VanGogh, Paul Klee, Gauguin, Modigliani, Okeefe, Rothko, and many others. I am inspired by many online artists and photographers I see on such facebook pages such as Icolorama, iPhone photography, theappwhisperer.com, appstracts, and more. Photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon.
Does your engagement on social media help you to plan your future projects?
Social media teaches me where I need to be online and how to grow my following. As for creative projects sometimes I plan and many times I work on immediate inspiration without knowing where it’ll take me.
What does your average day look like?
I am not a morning person. I wake up kind of late and really look forward to my coffee. Then I organize, email, make the bed etc. I am trying to do more exercise whether it be online or walking. I’m not structured enough with this. I eat my first meal late. Some days I set aside for chores and administration details. Other days I work on creative projects. In addition to my fine art, I do some design work for clients and that sometimes involves going places like suppliers or client sites. When I don’t do that, I work at home. Since the pandemic I am getting more specific things done but over all less, I think. I stop late in the day and make dinner. After dinner my husband and I clean up together and go upstairs and watch a series or a movie. Occasionally we go downstairs and play pool. Before I fall asleep I play brain games on my phone. Sometimes I do some art on the iPad and sometimes I talk to a friend late at night. Although we occasionally get together with friends, its become sparse. Hoping to add my social life back in on a regular basis soon.
Is it your intention to ask questions or make the viewer question what they see?
Sometimes. I don’t really think about this even when it happens. I really work through stream of consciousness and not planned thought, which is why I have created so many images in so many directions. It’s my therapy. I just want the visual to speak for itself. I do have a number of blended images that ask questions or put a question in the mind of the viewer, but I wouldn’t say its intentional ahead of time.
Is there humour in your work?
Yes, in some of it. I love humor. It’s usually accidental but then I elaborate on it.
How important is failure in your work process? Do you incorporate it into your creative process?
Failure has inspired me to push harder. So it has some relevance. When I first started exhibiting I really wanted to win awards. I studied the art that won and got a feel for what they look for. Definitely not the same as what sells in a market of average people. Pushed myself and trusted my instinct on what to enter and this was successful. I do use this somewhat. But mostly I just create to play.
How do you deal with criticism?
I am fine with criticism if it is really constructive, and I can use it to improve. I do not use criticism when I teach although I do suggest options. I want to encourage and I feel that’s more apt to get better performance and results. I stay away from those I feel are using criticism to make less of you. Anything that stops one from creating isn’t good. Intention is what counts. Although there are rules in art and standards, and our education level enlightens that to us, who can really judge art ultimately? It isn’t fair to criticise as if you know better. Correcting things like focus and horizon lines, etc are not criticism. They are education when said kindly. I have suggested trying something to students making it clear I’m not saying what they did was wrong but just to explore creative options. Art is finding your own viewpoint so how do you criticise that?
Has the Covid-19 pandemic influenced your creative life?
Yes. I am less prolific now although in the beginning I created way more abstracts. I wasn’t going anywhere I’d normally take photographs. I find right now I feel removed somewhat and lacking inspiration. But I’m spending time organising my images, learning some new things like NFT’s and exploring other media like mosaic and jewellery. Definitely need more interaction with people.
Who dead or alive would you like to have dinner with?
- My parents who are gone for years, and both sets of grandparents who I didn’t know except for one who I adored.
- My friend Liora who passed away four years ago and who I traveled through Europe with when we were 18.
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg (would’ve chosen her alive or not).
- Leonard Cohen.
- Alive? My family. Maybe some old friends. One of my son’s middle school math teachers who really “got” him. I’d like her to know she was right and say thank you. No one famous comes to mind. I can tell you a whole lot of people I would not like to have dinner with!
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve heard and still repeat to others?
- Never pass up an opportunity to pee.
- Be kind.
- Stop introverting or questioning yourself.
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