Providence Painter Monica Shinn, “I think artists anywhere … are the conscience of the community.”

No question about it, Providence has an abundant population of talented artists. The vibrant arts scene of the City, and the community that forms as a result of it, is attracting more and more artists from out of state to make their art happen here. That’s what happened to painter Monica Shinn, who moved from Portland, Oregon to Providence over a decade ago.

Like so many creative people, Shinn is an artist whose individuality shines through in her work, but what makes her distinct among the sea of talented faces is that she relishes talking, working, and building relationships with other artists as well. She’s injected her passion for painting into some of the City’s best downtown art spaces over the past ten years, like GalleryAgniel, Trinity Rep, the Providence Black Rep, AS220, and Perishable Theater. Today, her studio and fabrication company is housed at a construction trailer parked at The Steel Yard. City News gets an inside look into one local painter’s creative journey through Providence’s art scene.

How long have you been creating art in Providence?

Since I moved here which was in 1994.

And prior to that, where were you located?

I was in Portland, Oregon.

As an artist, what do you like most about having Providence as your home base?

Basically, Providence has been great. I’ve had the experience to talk to a lot of artists, especially downtown, and during last summer when I got a chance to work with Donald King for Providence Sound Session as the production manager. One of the reasons I do that kind of work, outside of painting, is that I get to talk to other artists, and that is one of the reasons why I really like Providence.

Now, Providence is getting bigger and artists from other cities are coming, which is influencing what everybody is doing in Providence. To me, that is exciting.

I think festivals like what Don, Black Rep, and the City are doing through Sound Session are awesome for artists. I think they’re great for the City. So, I would say, do more of those! I think that if Providence can be an international art hub for artists that would be awesome!

Providence is rapidly gaining popularity for its vibrant arts scene. In many instances, art has drawn tourism, new residents, and economic boom to Providence. As an artist, how do you see art, or artists, playing a role in that?

I say that artists anywhere, not consciously or whether you’re political or not, are the conscience of the community. I’m not talking about art necessarily in galleries. I’m talking about art that people make on a daily basis. I think as people do that more, we have more influence that way. But I think what the City needs to do is encourage that kind of art even more throughout the entire community of Providence and beyond. This is what makes a community strong and the stronger the community is the more people are going to want to live here.

Also, the more money that comes here to the City the better. There’s that philosophy of the more money that comes into our city’s neighborhoods and downtown, the more comes in to the people that work here. I’m really grateful to the people that buy my art. I think one wish on my list is for people to spend more money on art. I’m not crying about the poor artist, but I do think that this type of spending activity has to be encouraged even more.

Can you name some of the art spaces that you have been involved with, or exhibited at, in the City?

For the last ten years, I have been represented by GalleryAgniel, ran by Sara Agniel. The gallery she ran alongside Martina Wendel’s jewelry business is not open anymore but first I have to thank her. The value of having a gallery like that and to have someone who represents artists in that way, for the last ten years of my life, has been valuable. That kind of space is very rare and it’s just not happening enough. Basically, I think that boils down to people not spending enough on art, relatively speaking, to New York or Boston, and there are really good artists in Providence! So, that’s one of the things I think needs some improvement but I think it’s getting better and better.

There’re other places in town too that I think have been very valuable to me and to other artists, and one of them is Trinity Rep. As a painter, you don’t really support yourself solely on your art, and so I’ve worked at places like Trinity to make a living. I try to find jobs that inform my painting so that after work, I have something that will help me as an artist. The people at Trinity are doing great things and everybody’s so talented and they have great technicians.

Right now, I’m also working at the Steel Yard. I have my studio there. They have this great place and they’re doing great art. I had a studio and a fabrication company in Olneyville, a small business that I operated with another artist, Jeremy Woodward. When we shut it down we bought two construction trailers that we moved into the Steel Yard.

And, I also credit Perishable Theatre and Black Rep for contributing to my experience here as an artist in Providence.

How would you describe your own work?

I began as a writer, as a poet, and was working with a bunch of painters and they kind of hinted that I might be good as a painter in my late 20s. They were right and I started painting since then, about twenty years now.

I work with a lot of paintings at once, about 20 paintings, for about 2 years. So they get done all at once and it takes about that long to complete them.

I rarely have an idea. I usually just paint. I don’t like to talk about it or think about it or have it be about anything. I’m just painting what I see and putting that out there. So I’m always looking around at things. Colors are really important – how you see them and how they are, how people are wearing or wore their clothes, and how other people use colors.

Why are you drawn to this type of medium?

I just want to paint. It’s all I want to do, and I mean, I could do this for the rest of my life. I could do other things. I’m trained as a welder and as a metalsmith but since I’ve moved here, I really have been able to work and make a living as a painter. Like at Trinity, I do some of the scenic work there too.

Why am I drawn to it? I think painting is a craft and one of the oldest ones in our culture. I work with my hands. Everything that I do is about working with my hands. I enjoy that part of it.

People in my family have worked with their hands all their lives. So I like that there’s a historical sense to it. It’s something that people have done generation after generation.

And, I like being outside! I can paint and work outside!

Where do you derive your sources of inspiration?

I’ve been interested in the past, though not so much now, but it’s certainly informed my work, in that kind of modernist approach. Like when I was writing – it was that idea of the modernist novel, of chunks of time mixed with the time of the novel that then skews time. I also read a lot and I would say a lot of my inspiration comes from that too.

What are you currently working on? Where can the public catch your latest work?

I’ve been doing big, large format drawings that I just started doing just to warm up and I started liking them.

And then, Paula Martesian let me show them at the BankRI Gallery downtown. I got some feedback on them and I did some more. I made these frames with my brother to frame the pieces in. Later on, my friend Stuart at IOLabs suggested that maybe they could be prints! So we started working on them as prints and I got to show them again. I got to show them at AS220 just recently. Now, I’m trying to fill the orders of the people who bought them!

I’m also working on my website to get my work out and people can order them through there too.

What do you say to the younger, or newer generation of artists that might want to get more involved in the Providence arts scene?

The first thing I say is, keep making your art. There are all kinds of ways you can do it. If you’re young, I think you gotta find people that will be supportive of you and you gotta go to places like AS220, CityArts, New Urban Arts, the Steel Yard, and all the other places like that. Teachers have to educate their students, or whoever is guiding that population, on the value of art and steer them towards being around working artists. When you are around a person who is doing what you think you might want to do, I think it could be very helpful and inspiring.