Artist Profile Heather Shirin
Colin Hanson Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
Heather Shirin brings a whole new level of intimacy to art, not only in commitment to each piece she creates, but also to all forms of art that she encounters. I was not surprised to walk up her driveway and find “MXDMEDA” (mixed media ) printed into her license plate. At the door was a young woman, short blond hair styled neatly, holding a fluffy white cat. She smiled, welcoming me in with a gesture and a friendly “Come on in!”
As I entered her home, I was struck by an epiphany; painting is not just a money maker, or even just a hobby for her to enjoy. Heather’s art is authentic, with a perception all her own. Walking into her small, earth toned and well-furnished living room, I notice several of her art pieces hanging on each wall. One is of a tree, its branches bent and angled; it reminded me of an old man who had stood too long in one place and became a Japanese Cherry Blossom. Another is on the opposite wall, next to the three windows that light up the room. It depicts a bare breasted woman, face buried in her arm; she seems to be outside, hiding away from a world she wishes not to be a part of. As Heather and I trade small talk, I anxiously prepare myself for an interview I have looked forward to for weeks.
Once everything was ready, I asked my first question; “So Heather, tell me how you became to be an artist, tell me your story.” I know immediately that I have set myself up for quite a story. “Well, I was born in Minnesota, May 23rd, 1975,” she starts, looking at the wall as she recalls her history. “From there, well my father Edwin Thomas…Dean of Engineering at Rice University - I want to say he’s a genius. My dad is a genius, he really is,” she continues with a laugh, telling me how her father’s love for science inspired her own. She explains how her scientific view on life allowed her to be open to the possibilities, which eventually encouraged her art. Her father’s ties to the scientific community also allowed her and her family to travel; Shirin recalls having visited Germany, England, France, Italy, Greece and Tokyo. After seeing all the different kinds of artwork, ranging from ancient Japanese watercolors to the Statue of David, she saw an interest in painting, beginning down the road to developing her own style.
This style of hers, however, did not come easy. “All my life, I’ve really struggled to find my own style”, she tells me. Her first big influence was an artist named Gustav Klimt, whose use of gold leaf greatly inspired her. She began to use it quite often in her artwork, slowly expanding to other techniques like those of Kelly Rae Roberts, and Il Sung Na, mixing them together in a way that began to form a whole new style. One she could call her own. She began to experiment with mixed media, using a wide range of mediums to work with. She uses fabrics, paints, lace, paper, oils, old love letters, sheet music, earrings and of course, gold leaf. But these are just a few of the kinds of material she uses to create art.
Amazed at her art, and what she used in it, I asked her what her process was. She took me over to a little table, next to her brand new easel, and showed me a clothing magazine. In it was a photograph of two women, one lying on the ground, the other resting her head on the other’s stomach. They both looked calm; one had her eyes closed. I looked up, seeing that it was very similar in appearance to her newest work of art, called “I Must Be Dreaming.” “I find art everywhere” she says. “When I saw these two women, I fell in love with the way the picture was taken, and how the women looked in it. So I decided to paint it, in my own style.” She shows me a small pile of photos she has, telling me how she looks through them for inspiration. But photos are just one aspect of her process; she looks for inspiration in everything. One of her paintings currently in process is of her hair dresser Copper, whose rainbow colored hair inspired Heather to paint her. She also draws upon personal experiences for some paintings, showing me one particular work that had old love letters from her fiancé (now husband) glued to the wood, and then painted over, adding both a sentimental significance as well as a texture to the piece. When I touched the paper, I could physically feel her emotional connection to the piece.
Realizing how much she drew upon her own life to create her artwork, I decided to talk to her husband, Paul, to find out a little more about the dynamic that he brings to her art. Paul is a tall, built man, with short brown hair and a deep, but kind, voice. He is a musician, a fan of Japanese robots, and builds guitars. I got the pleasure of playing one of his guitars, which he named Seed, as it was the seed to his growing efforts. As I watched Paul and Heather interact, laugh, and smile together, I discovered that Paul was not just her husband, but perhaps one of the biggest influences on her art; the bond they share together is expressed throughout Heather’s artwork, expressed in happiness, love, and respect.
As we leave Paul and Heather’s garage, which is currently Paul’s workshop for constructing guitars, I ask Heather what is next for her. She tells me that apart from finishing her Japanese zen garden, she hopes to get picked up by a Gallery, hopefully one that will allow her to become a full time artist. “Maybe someday I’ll be picked up by a museum,” she adds with a smile, “so I’ll be remembered in art history.”
As I leave the Shirin home, I wave goodbye to Heather, Paul, and their three cats; Meushi, Hunny, and Totoro. I smile to myself as I recall something Heather had said to me. “I believe that I was put on this earth to paint.” I for one, couldn’t agree more.