The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. We wanted to invite individuals working within the creative field to provide their voice, opinions and suggestions for the improvement, development and future of the Canadian creative community.
Shayna – Rivelle is a Toronto – based visual & mural artist with roots in community art and youth mentorship and engagement. In between her various studies, and currently attending the University of Toronto, Shayna shared with artsUNITE how she’s been keeping busy through the pandemic, and touches on the importance of representation and collaboration within BIPOC communities and the arts and culture sector.
Q: Can you share a little about yourself and your background in the creative field?
My name is Shayna-Rivelle and I’m a visual artist currently residing in Toronto. While I was born here, the predominant and core foundational years of my life were spent in Trinidad, so I consider myself more of Trinidadian person because the country and culture has influenced my life generally more than Toronto. When I resided in Toronto in my early childhood, I attended after school programs with different types of art classes for kids and later during my secondary school years in Trinidad, I began to seriously take an interest in visual arts. I previously pursued two years of an associate degree in Medical Laboratory Technology at COSTAATT (The College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad) and am currently at grade 8 in piano and on the way to finishing the requirements to become a piano teacher attaining my ARCT via the Ontario Conservatory of Music .
My creative practice began to intensify when I attended the St. Joseph School of Art, a private visual art centre and school run by my art mentor and teacher of over 60 years Anne Marie Garcia, after high school. It was under her mentorship that I developed skills with my own interest and ideas and came to be an artist, mural painter and art teacher in training. I was working in various low-socioeconomic neighborhoods that used mural paintings to enhance their communities as well as interact with residents, particularly children. One of the most important things we had to do aside from completing murals was engage with the children, and using art as a tool to engage them productively. This experience allowed me to become the creative director for the mural project with John G Diefenbaker Public School in Scarborough, On.
My work is influenced by my attraction to the diversity of global beauty via landscapes, people and culture, living in both the Caribbean and now in Canada, using a variety of mediums. Understanding and accepting diversity, especially of Africa and its related diasporas, educates the world in being a holistic, healthier place to heal and progress forward together.
Currently I sell artwork via pieces, apparel and the newest addition, different styles of masks, in addition to being a student in African, English and Life Sciences studies at the University of Toronto.
Various paintings and printed masks by Shayna- Rivelle. Photos courtesy of the artist.
Q: The John G Diefenbaker Mural is so great! Can you share how this opportunity came about, and a little bit about your creative process for this project?
My older sibling joined the PTA for my nephew’s school, and the principal Franca Capano, mentioned that one of the changes she wanted to make to the school was the mural in the lunchroom. She thought the previous mural needed to be upgraded to connect with and better reflect the children’s interest. My sibling immediately mentioned to the principal that this was right up my alley and she agreed to meet. I met with her the following week and explained everything about my general and visual arts education and background. I carefully explained my process and shared my portfolio and she immediately put trust in me.
As I mentioned, I had years of experience doing mural work and art mentorship so I knew where to start. Firstly, I listened to what the principal told me about the school about its history, the diversity of the student body and what she would like the kids to feel. After we had our meeting, I drafted an image that I believed to best suit the energy and vibe of the school, especially the kids. The brainstorming and some research took time, roughly about a month over Christmas holidays in Trinidad. Secondly, I visited each and every single classroom to become engaged with the kids and ask them about their ideas, to try and also make it enjoyable for them. I would also show them the idea that I had so that we could incorporate their input as it was more important than mine. Lastly, I gathered all of those images and took patterns of commonalities and incorporated them into the final image. The kids loved everything about the process. I was given a different class each day to work with for the first two weeks and I divided the wall into sections – from easy to difficult – so that each class was able to contribute by painting a piece on the wall. The principal memorably mentioned to me that the kids have never been involved in a creative project as a school and I wanted to make it a memorable first for them and the school.
Q: I noticed through your Instagram feed an evolution of your work from painting to sketching. Can you talk a little about your work with different mediums?
I work with a diversity of mediums and am always looking to learn about newer ones that I can incorporate into my work. One of the primary mediums I use is acrylic paint as I like how it can be easily manipulated to my advantage on many types of surfaces, whether it be onto an actual canvas or any types of surfaces or item. This is accommodated by the occasional usage of watercolours and its various techniques. With my sketching, I use a variety of sketching materials of different grades and shades to produce different feelings and appearances depending on what I am working on. When I focus on figure drawing, I work with pencil, ink and coloured pencils, however I am returning to the use of charcoal, pastels and regular crayon to show how each of these can be used to create different effects.
As I go on to pursue a masters in medical illustration after my current Humanities Undergraduate Degree, I use predominantly pencils that produce a clean fine look as these types of illustrations have to be as clean and clear as possible to be annotated. There are newer materials and concepts to explore that I intend to educate and challenge my skills with, and am currently working on building a diverse portfolio of work and illustrations.
Q: Is there a quote/ mantra you live by, if so, how has this shaped your practice?
I do not have a particular quote or mantra that I live by because I personally believe that there is not any particular one a person should live by.
Growing up in the Caribbean, one thing that is learned as second nature is the acceptance of fluidity and diversity of people and their spiritual, religious and cultural beliefs; that not one person, thing or entity has all of the answers to morality. This is probably as close as it gets to something I live by, It has shaped my practice because from learning and understanding from a diversity of people in and out of the Caribbean, I learned how art is a reflection of their culture and history. It is through this I have and am still learning methods and styles, shaping my artistic individuality.
Q: (How) Has the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected you and your family/your art?
With regards to the artwork, not too much negatively as my art studio is my home and I do all of the work myself. However, on the positive side, I have connected with people and found newer avenues I can even take to discover myself as an artist that I would not have had the opportunity nor would have thought about prior to the pandemic. It has affected some of my ability to collaborate but I am not fully discouraged as I know there are alternatives through virtual tools, but this pandemic is much more important that any collaboration I can do, safety is first for me.
Q: What are you working on/up to right now?
I am working on numerous things. Self-care, health and wellness is always my number one, forever, regardless of the circumstances. No one can tell me otherwise or make me neglect it, even if some days are harder than some. Anyone who challenges that, I immediately distance and cut that person, energy and/or environment off. Life is too short and so busy to bear crosses not within reason you.
I have completed an online Clinical Psychology course via The University of Queensland to aid myself in future to work within the field of art therapy. In addition to that, I have been working harder at extending my creativity into the kitchen, being a new vegan and always being interested and believing in Rastafarian concepts of food and lifestyle, to the point I even started an Instagram to learn from others and share what I know.
Q: The recent work you shared with artsUNITÉ representative of the pandemic is powerful. Can you share the meanings and symbolism behind this work?
As art is an imagery-based language, this piece of artwork is meant to visualize our current state; the coronavirus pandemic.
In this body of work, the eyes of covid, there are three sets of eyes covered by a veil. The eyes represent the three predominant emotions of people: fear (the far left), pain (the middle) and hope (right). Fear represents the emotion instilled in those who are either anxious, witnessing those suffering and fighting to survive physically, financially and psychologically. The pain represents those who have been diagnosed, fighting to overcome it as well others within their circles and surrounding, community areas. It is with both the eyes of fear and pain, people are feeling unstable knowing life and death is out of their hands due to the inconsistent rations of deaths and lives recovering. The last pair of eyes, representing hope are for those who are pillars of strength for others, who are neither capable nor inconsistent to be strong enough to carry out this temporary normal until further notice. The hopeful ones are the resources of optimism, searching and working towards progression and positivity, awaiting the end of the pandemic.
The veil symbolizes the pandemic covering each of the people’s emotions because a pandemic is globally inevitable. They are usually symbolized with marriage as modesty until the woman presents herself to her husband, there is no modesty within this pandemic. Despite the government and other associated bodies globally, that are trying to shelter and modify the masses at their best capability, the feeling of these three emotions cannot be avoided. This work was produced to convey the year 2020, as something unforgettable within the twenty-first century that many will remember in history to come. To those who I have represented, I hope this work reminds them that they are not alone and they can indeed get through another day.
Q: What do you think companies/collectives/local organizations need to be focusing on to address the ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts and culture sector?
Provision of safe spaces is one of the most important things that need to be constant for the communities and movements of BIPOC. There are some collectives and even independent bodies who are providing those spaces versus those that who falsely support these movements only to not be dismissed from popularity and cultural connection. I also believe more visibility and collaborations with BIPOC artists and even businesses within the community is needed to educate, expose and help those who have been victims of systemic racism to build solidarity. This may require people to come outside of their comfort zone to support minority businesses to circulate wealth into our communities. Things are also becoming much more transparent as the movements and protesting against systemic racism continues; It lets us know who we need to and should not support. We cannot educate or uplift if things are not being exposed, both good and bad.