Sponsored Content | Photos provided by The Art Group
The Art Group was founded nearly two decades ago when several Little Rock artists came together to share an art studio. In 2013, the artists officially opened a gallery, The Art Group Gallery, in Pleasant Ridge Shopping Center. Follow along as At Home in Arkansas interviews each of the group’s 18 artists to find out more about their inspirations and processes for creating.
At Home in Arkansas: Tell us a little about your background. Have you always had an interest in art?
Shelley Gentry: I have thought of myself as an artist as far back as I can remember! Starting as a young child growing up in Arkansas, my parents noticed I had enthusiasm as well as skill in art endeavors, and they looked for any opportunity to nurture my growth as an artist. I still remember the collages and drawings I completed with my summer art instructor when I was 10 years old! When I decided to attend Hendrix College, my parents were wholeheartedly supportive of my decision to pursue art as a degree.
After graduation, I married and my husband and I moved to Chicago where I pursued another three years of study in interior design at the Harrington Institute of Design. During the six years we lived in Chicago, I interned and later was employed as an interior designer with the design firm Perkins & Will, Inc. In addition to working as a designer, I created ink and marker renderings of interior spaces for client presentations. My fine arts background came in handy with these renderings.
My husband and I returned to Arkansas in 1994 and my career path became a patchwork of various art-related activities, from commissioned children’s portraits to leading art activities as an assistant preschool teacher. My artistic pursuits took a backseat to multiple volunteer jobs related to our two children’s active lives. Three years ago, I decided it was time to commit full-time to my career as an artist, and I applied to join the Art Group Gallery. I was accepted and it has proven to be an excellent decision!
AH: What types of medium do you use in your work?
SG: I work primarily in acrylics because I love incorporating multiple layers of paint and adding transparent glazes, textures, and collage elements where needed. Some artists steer away from acrylics because of their tendency to dry quickly, but that’s what I love about them. I don’t have to wait long to add another layer of paint, a piece of collage paper, or a layer of molding paste.
However, like many artists, I must admit I’m an avid collector and experimenter with all sorts of art mediums. I have worked in soft pastels, watercolors, and pen and ink, as well as dabbled in oils. For me, a visit to an art supply store is the equivalent of a child’s trip to FAO Schwarz; it’s hard to leave without a purchase!
AH: What about your style? Do you create mainly abstract pieces or realistic works?
SG: I often refer to my studio as the studio of the dueling easels, because I generally work on two paintings at a time—an abstract subject on one easel and a realistic subject on the other. The abstract paintings allow me the freedom to express my emotions without the constraint of recreating a specific image, whereas the realistic works fulfill my desire to share a close-up view of something I have seen and found inspiring. As crazy as it might sound for some artists, this approach balances my creative brain. I can’t imagine giving up either practice and thankfully, I don’t have to!
In my realistic works, I paint from my own photos, with rare exception, and I am an avid photographer. I am never at a loss for subject matter, often holding onto a series of photos for several years before deciding that the timing is right to paint a certain subject. For my abstract works, I am most often inspired by words—quotes or even single words—that evoke an emotional response in me and subsequently I begin to visualize how that response could be translated into a painted composition.
AH: Where do you like to go to create your pieces?
SG: I have a home studio that is a haven for me—a cozy space with a concrete floor so I don’t have to worry about paint splatters, enough room for multiple easels with paintings in progress, a closet for storing LOTS of art supplies, a built-in desk where I can read through the many art books and magazines I collect, two dog beds for my canine companions, and lots of northern light through a wall of windows. For many years, I painted in a dark corner of a storage room in our home, so the addition of this studio 11 years ago is a gift I never take for granted!
AH: Tell us a bit about your process. Do you have certain practices or times of day you paint?
SG: I usually bookend my days with painting in the studio, heading to paint in the early morning and again later in the evening. Since I serve on the management team of the Art Group Gallery and am responsible for the design of our gallery walls, the middle of my days tend to be filled with other art-related activities such as hanging the gallery for an upcoming show, meeting with other gallery artists, or sitting in front of my computer with a list of art-related to-dos.
I am a big candle and music lover, so I use both to enhance my painting time. I select from various playlists ranging from country western to classical piano depending on my mood at the time, but you can always be assured that a candle will be burning in the background. Turning on the music and lighting the candle help me get into my creative frame of mind.
AH: What do you hope people get from viewing and/or owning your art?
SG: Ultimately, I hope that my art enhances positive connections—connections with each other, as well as connections to emotions and memories. Creating my paintings is a solo journey, but hopefully it provides a visual focus for shared experience.
Learn more about Shelley and the Art Group Gallery at artgrouparkansas.com.