What piece of art changed your life? How did it affect you?
When I think about what piece of art changed my life, my mind quickly goes to a moment in the summer of 2006 when I saw a certain series of paintings. I was working at the time in a martini bar, doing odd jobs on films, and hacking away aimlessly at my electric guitar by night. I had big dreams of doing something or being somebody but couldn't quite figure out how I would get there—I didn’t even know where it was I was trying to get to or who I was trying to become. I had considered many possible life choices, from professional athlete to CIA spy. I dabbled here and there in painting, sculpture, and writing down the stories in my head, but it was all just a scramble of hodgepodge and immature intentions.
The moment that changed all this was when I went to visit some friends in New York. When I walked into their big Brooklyn loft space, I was immediately stunned by what I saw. The living room that had been empty just two weeks before on my last visit was now filled with a series of miraculous and spectacularly large paintings. Before this impressive array of color sat their creator, the painter and master of collage Sienna Shields. She was busy, fingers covered in sticky medium, hair bursting out, and eyes clear and dreamy.
"Wow," I said. "You did all these?"
"Yup," she said without skipping a beat. "I've just been busy working."
I was stunned. It was awesome in the truest sense of the word. I stayed at the loft for the rest of the day and well into the night. At the time, there were roommates moving about, guests coming and going, outfits changing, dance parties erupting and dying out, meals being prepared and eaten, dishes being washed, and more outfit changes. Throughout all of this, there was one constant—the steady and deliberate building and layering of work in the living room. Little by little, Shields planted piece by piece of carefully placed color and contrast into her paintings. For hours upon hours, she stayed focused, and I realized that this was not an isolated occasion. I realized that this is what she did—she worked and she focused for long periods of time. It was this discipline and full engagement in her craft that had produced such an impressive body of work.
It seems obvious that there would be a direct connection between hours of hard, focused work and the quality of the final product, but for a young, undisciplined, and inexperienced person (like I was, at the time), this was a mind blowing realization. It was the first time I saw with my own eyes what it was to be a serious artist. It was not a short-lived inspiration, throwing some paint on a paper, calling it a masterpiece, and moving on—rather, it took persistence, patience, and endurance. It was discipline and focus to a degree I had never witnessed before in the arts. Before this, I had seen arts as a hobby, something to do in your spare time to blow off steam or pass a few hours on a lazy Sunday. I realized that being an artist was about commitment, that time was the most valuable thing I could give, and that it was serious.
I was so inspired by this that I began to focus with rigor and discipline on my own inspirations. I began to approach creation with a completely new level of dedication. I am happy to say that now—six years, and thousands of focused hours later—I have completed works of my own, including my first musical album, Heartbreakers. I have just begun work on my second album, and I still think back to the gifts I was given when I first encountered Sienna Shields and her paintings. These lessons stay close to my heart as I lock myself in my studio for hours on end, just me and the work, the rest of the world humming along outside.
Baltimore native Phoebe Jean has an excellent new album called Heartbreakers. An outlier of sorts on the local music scene, she crafts moody and evocative funk that mingles nicely with the likes of Portishead and M.I.A. on a mixtape. She'll be at Nowchild Soundstage (409 E. Preston Street) tomorrow night on a multi-act, "Ladies Nite" bill that also includes Akia Holt and Yankee Bang Bang. She had been scheduled to play next week at Sonar, which just closed.