It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than opening yourself up through a visual display that rips off all of your layers and exposes the deepest parts of your inner being to the public. That’s exactly what local artist Mikaela Sheldt has done through “Paint and Process.”
Currently displayed upstairs in the Pensacola Museum of Art, “Paint and Process” is her first solo museum show. On view through Nov. 30, the show includes work that Sheldt created in the two months preceding the exhibit’s opening at the Oct. Gallery Night.
As she embarked on this body of work, Sheldt challenged herself.
“Let’s see what two months out of my studio looks like,” she said.
“That’s sort of what my goal was. I knew everything would be coherent without even trying. It was all going to be coming from the same place.”
While the show naturally embodies explorations Sheldt cites as evident across all of her art—universality of emotion, vulnerability, honesty, scale, and process—for this particular body of work, she decided to take an even more personal approach.
For “Paint and Process” five paintings line a single gallery wall, while her sixth and largest painting stands on a wall of its own. With the exception of her largest piece, all are self-portraits.
“Being an artist—and life in general—is going to these really scary places and tackling them. As an artist, doing a show of self-portraits and then having them all be naked and having them all be very real emotions…they’re getting at these things I feel and have felt,” said Sheldt.
“They’re subtle emotions. Blink and you’ll miss it like an intake of air—the pause between the inhale and exhale. They’re very private. And they’re really quiet. Even the color palette is really subdued.”
This collection represents the first series of paintings she has done entirely in ink.
“They are painted in layers. There’s a lot of transparency—so the first marks made on the surface are still present in the final piece alongside the most refined marks,” she said. “Even in the method of painting there is a sort of vulnerability and a sort of being exposed. My approach to the paintings is very naked, and raw and just kind of organic.”
Realizing she had developed quite a number of sketches during the two months as she worked through the paintings, she decided to cover an entire wall with them as part of the show.
“It’ll show the process and help people connect with the work and me as the artist,” she decided. “People in Pensacola aren’t used to seeing that stuff, much less pieces without frames.”
For Sheldt, this show, and the entirety of her art are about conveying truth—truth that’s inside.
“It’s not about making paintings,” she said. “It’s about conveying that truth most effectively, most honestly and most vulnerably.”
This extends across all mediums she places her hands on.
“The medium fits what you’re trying to say or the project fits what’s inside you. For me these projects—like what I worked on for the museum—come to the surface when I’ve done enough work getting at whatever sort of nugget of truth is inside me that needs to come out,” she said.
Although making art is both a means of self-expression and a primary form of communication for Sheldt, being an artist is something that she admits running from in the past—something that eventually caught up to her.
After beginning her collegiate studies pursuing the linear, more concrete world of physics, she embarked on a journey toward pursuing a math degree at Agnes Scott College. It was here, while simultaneously dabbling in the world of art and working in a studio space, Sheldt ended up dropping math to complete her Bachelors of Arts degree in visual arts.
“Art chose me in a lot of ways. I was not chasing it down,” she said. “You can’t escape identity. It always comes back to get you.”
Within the last year, Sheldt has created a space in time where she keeps herself as her primary focus, her art second, and her community third. Pensacola, the home she elected to return to for the sake of making art, has helped her understand the value and the importance of connecting with her community as a part of her artistic process.
“I don’t want to make art and force it on the community. I want to bring the community into my work and into my process,” she said.
Along with extending her arms out wide to the community and welcoming them in through her painting, there is another key element that is a foundational part of Sheldt’s creative process and also part of the current museum exhibit—her poetry.
“I write in order to make sense of everything that’s in my head,” she said. “If I’ve been able to take crazy emotions, abstract images and thoughts and put them into a poem, then that really helps me know what I’m going to be painting.”
After assuring herself, “Mikaela you want to show the process, and this writing is part of the process,” she decided to place her poems on the PMA gallery walls alongside her paintings, revealing her poetry outside of the poetry community for the first time.
Friday Nov. 22, Sheldt will be extracting the words off the static pages affixed to the walls, and bringing them to life for her performance event, “Poetry and Process.”
“It’s all coming together,” said Sheldt. “It all belongs together and it belongs with the community—with the people who are all such a part of my process.”
For the event, Sheldt will not just be telling a story, she will be telling her story.
“Art has a really unique way of helping us connect. It feels beautiful to take this thing I’ve created and share it to bring people into my world,” she said.
“My goal is to take the audience by the hand and bring them on this journey of what has gone on in my world in the last year and how this art has come up out of it.”
POETRY AND PROCESS
WHAT: Artist Talk and Poetry Performance by Mikaela Sheldt
WHEN: 6 – 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson
DETAILS: pensacolamuseum.org or 432-6247