Interview with Shelby Assenheimer

Words by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Jen Steele.

Where did you grow up and were you creative as a child? My family home was on a West Coast acreage where we enjoyed a robust existence amongst the towering evergreens, blackberry bushes, moss, and mud! This early connection to the natural world provided the ground for a budding imagination that would eventually form the foundation of my art practice. My family was also of great influence — my father was a gifted pianist and my mother included the arts in her every day.

You did interior design work for restaurants and cafes in Vancouver. How did you transition to becoming a fine artist? Early on, I discovered that actualizing the creative idea was my magic! This way of self-expression would develop and eventually carry into my adulthood. Though not formally trained, I successfully provided interior design services to clients in greater Vancouver that included Keg Caesars, The Trolls, and Metrotown’s Tuscany Coffee House. The hands-on approach was very satisfying to me, so I often took on the decorative finishing of walls and wrought iron furniture for these projects. I also painted large backdrops for stage and catering events, so progressing to the canvas was a fait accompli.

Did you formally study art in any capacity? This was always my goal and when the opportunity arose, I enrolled in Ontario’s Dundas Valley School of Art in 2001, and in 2017, I earned a Certificate of Visual Arts from the Vancouver Island School of Art.

What inspires you to paint? Painting is my way of expressing those things that words cannot. I draw from nature, its universal cycles, and consider the effects of the historical layered with the present. I adopt this sense of layering as a painting technique to combine with loosely defined brushstrokes and mark making. I strive to maintain focus while in the creative process but find ‘loosening the reins’ can give voice to another dimension.

You work with concrete, wood, and metal in your sculptures. How did you start sculpting with these materials? Over the years, I have gained an interest in construction materials due to the work of my husband, Dwaine, who is my constant supporter and technical advisor. In 2017, I began working in 3-D with concrete, steel, and plexiglass. Bringing these contrasting materials together amplifies their unique characteristics and demonstrates the merits of interdependence.

What does your recent collection communicate to the viewer? My recent landscapes are ‘without horizon’ to purposely immerse the viewers’ eye in nature. Through my landscapes, I endeavour to bring the viewer home to the grounding sensations of nature and its past, present and future rhythms that resonate throughout the universe. A recent journey into the bowels of the Great Pyramid in Egypt has encouraged me to further explore these concepts.

Horses seem to make their way into many of your paintings. Can you explain the significance to you? I sense the scrutiny of the horse’s gaze and endeavor to capture the significance of this still and silent watcher. This figure’s emergence into my paintings is perplexing to me too — perhaps this ambassador for nature is calling for self-reflection?

Who are your biggest influences? I feel a direct connection with the artist through the mark of his/her hand. I am fascinated by the artwork of the pre-historic artists and their call to the future. The unfettered expressions of artists like Anselm Kiefer and the late Per Kirkeby pull me in as well. I will mention Doris Salcedo too — her installations are extraordinary.

Painting is such a solitary endeavor, how do you connect with other artists in Victoria? Equal to my passion to create art is my desire to connect with others through this practice, so I have always been eager to show my artwork in public or private exhibitions. I also strongly believe that artwork, shown in a residential setting, can demonstrate the sense of harmony and completion it brings to a space and our every day. For these reasons, we are pleased to host art shows and salons in our home. Please contact [email protected] if interested.