After graduating OCAD, Shannon discovered a new perspective on abstraction, different from her time here. Going beyond simply using Escapism in her paintings, Shannon lives it through her process, a constant dreamer and observer of reality.

I navigated through your website, in the “About” section of it. I wanted to get a little deeper into that. What issues or themes do you think your work is centered around, or deals with in general?
The sort of underlying topic that keeps coming up, time and again, is escapism. Whether it’s distorting my view of reality or creating worlds, environments and narratives that I can throw myself into. Because I feel like, in the process of creation, I can enjoy the process of losing myself and just completely giving myself over to working on a painting and working on something that requires my attention at the moment. So I think escapism definitely is a thing that comes up time and again.
In terms of figurative works—I have a couple of them on my website, but not a lot—I always approach the figure as a type of character, whether I have the model that I use (which is nine times out of ten somebody that I know) sitting for me or whether we do a photoshoot and then I take the photo references to go by it. During the process of finding photos or doing the photoshoot I try and transform them into a particular type of character.
When you say character, do you mean somebody with a specific story, that’s going to a certain place… is that what you mean by character?
Yeah! When I was researching different artists, Cindy Sherman stood out a lot in terms of her ability to sort of turn herself into this vast array of characters. And film is definitely a huge influence for me. Just how people are able to change who they are in their core, so to speak. Like change their essence and mold and manipulate it into another person. And how for some people it’s very difficult and for some people it’s very easy. I gravitate towards the people or… I have my knowledge of them and then I can sort of see “What if we did this?” and “What if we place you in this kind of a setting?”
And other things shine through.
Yeah. So I kind of see myself as in the role of director, in that sense. Director as well as creator.
Right! And how do you… for example, this topic of escapism, or with this directorial perspective, how did you come to find yourself in that position? Doing those things. How did you encounter these issues and why did you decide to get involved with them?
It’s just something that I gravitated towards.
I say it because, for example, the involvement of escapism makes me wonder about perhaps a certain life experience, or a certain feeling within you, which is enacted in the paintings. I may be completely wrong, but…
No. I’ve always been kind of an easily distracted, fidgety child. And there’s a part of me that’s always turned to art to get away from what’s happening in reality. And it’s not because of a specific life experience—I’m thankful to say that I haven’t experience a certain trauma or anything that’s drawn me towards this theme of escapism. It’s just something that’s been prevalent in my life, and it’s something that I feel, as an active and unavoidable daydreamer, like I have a certain authority to speak on. Whereas other topics I feel like I do not have the authority to speak on.
So wielding this authority, so to speak, doing this work… I assume there’s sort of an exploratory will in your work. Do you think you’re trying to reach a specific thing, or you’re searching for a specific thing, or just searching in general? Why do you keep making this work, essentially?
I keep making this work because I keep having ideas. I found myself very inspired by film. I’ll be very inspired by film, but then I’ll be very inspired by everyday objects, and recently I have this very strong obsession with light, and how light is perceived in space, and how light can change the atmosphere of the space. And I recently built a body of work for the show that’s happening on Thursday. I initially wanted to do nighttime, sort of nocturnal landscapes. So I was traversing around town, like usually on my way to work because I have a fair walk, and I would just be taking pictures of different buildings that I found very interesting, where the lights were pictured in a certain way that made the environment look either very eerie, or very welcoming, or somewhat menacing. I was going through that I and took a picture of the Grange Park and something was off on my camera. I think I was trying to walk as I was taking the picture, and it just took all the lights and it kind of stretched them out and blurred them while still maintaining the exposure, so I could see part of the ground and part of the bushes and the plants. And so I had all these very normal, standard nighttime photographs and then this one, really weird, abstracted one and I’m like, “This is really cool! I like this.” And I kept trying to do it again and again.
Taking intentionally bad photographs is a lot harder than you think. That one time happened by accident, so I ended up having to go through and delete all these pictures in my camera that were bad, but not in the right way. So I would build these paintings… They aren’t up on my website or anything, I’m gonna update them as soon as the show comes out. But I’ve been building these abstract works. I don’t really delve into abstract on my own. That’s something that I did more when I was here, and more through the parameters and the guidelines of doing an assignment. But this is the first time where I’ve actually felt myself drawn to it, where I’m taking these images and, through painting them, they turn into something abstract and something unrecognizable as landscape. So, kind of disturbing the environment through photography.
You just said, “This is the first time…” Sorry. I lost the idea.
It’s OK! This is the first time I’ve found myself drawn to painting abstract. Like, I wanted to do an abstract painting.
That hadn’t happened before.
Not to this extent.
By that, do you mean not as strongly?
Yeah. I know there are some artists that, like, abstract is all they do, or some that just do figures. And I’ve kinda flip-flopped in between taking the figure and taking the landscape and kind of abstracting it, pushing it just a little bit. But I feel like this is me taking the contents of the box and dumping it on the ground. Taking what I was doing before, and just going for it, as opposed to being afraid that I’m going to mess something up or not be consistent within my work, whatever that means.
And that fear, which is apparently not present anymore… Do you know when it started to disappear? Or why it started to disappear?
I think it would have been in my thesis year here. Because up until my fourth year at OCAD I had been doing very bright, very colourful, saturated artworks. They had very specific colour palettes, and they were as vibrant as I could get them without being neon. And then on my thesis I decided to not do that. I wanted to do monochromatic paintings, so I did black on black paintings with iridescence.
I actually bamboozled myself so hard with those, because they were inspired by documented accounts of UFO sightings, which sort of started my obsession with light, and how light is portrayed in either photographs or film. Because UFOs are considered a cryptid, like something like the Sasquatch or Mothman, like an urban legend, you can’t get a good photograph of them. So I wanted to create artwork that was hard to photograph. So when it came to documenting my thesis work, I had to have like six different lights, try a multitude of times… and, like, “Why did I do this to myself?” But I think it was because I wanted a challenge. It was almost like eating the same thing every single day: eventually, I just got sick of it, and I’m like “Something needs to change.” I need to try something different, and something out of my comfort zone. So, primarily I’m an acrylic painter. For thesis, I switched to oils. Well, acrylic and oil. Oils layered over top. And really thick impasto marks, so that you could really see the texture from certain angles.
The interference was something that I had dabbled in before, and I was comfortable. That was a little bit of a safety net for me.
Right. But you still mixed it in with risks, in a way.
Yeah.
Which paid off.
Yeah, which really paid off. I felt really good about it. I even dabbled in a little bit of sculpture and installation, for my final works. Which was interesting—trying to build these entities in a three-dimensional space. And it definitely peaked my interest in terms of wanting to do more environments and, instead of actually painting them on a two-dimensional surface, building them in a three-dimensional space. But I feel like the time hasn’t quite come for that. Mostly because I don’t have a studio space.

See more of Shannon’s art at: https://www.shannonleigh.art/work

Interview by Sebastián Rodrìguez Vasti

Photography Zhuoqing Tan