Artist Shamona Stokes Will Make You Feel Like a Kid Again
Her surreal sculptures are downright adorable and will inspire you to get in touch with your feelings
How do you start the day? Maybe you stall in bed and give Instagram the attention it most certainly doesn’t deserve that early in the morning.
Or maybe you’re more like Shamona Stokes, meditating and focusing on the heart for 15 minutes: “I think about the people I love and the things I love. That gets me out of my head and immersed in my feelings because my work is all about feelings and not overthinking things.” So that’s how she stays so warm and friendly!
The first time you see Shamona‘s sculptures, you can’t help but smile and get the urge to protect them at all costs. They have a certain childlike quality that makes you feel like all’s well with the world. They might even remind you of the creatures from Adventure Time, like they did for me.
Before pursuing her passion full-time, she was a graphic designer and illustrator for 15 years. In her words, “I thought I was happy because on paper, I had a good job and everything was going well. But I felt like I was always just settling for something.”
Meditation plays a major role in her creative process because it lets her go down “little weird pathways I didn’t know existed.” At first, she was a nonbeliever but when she started meditating every morning, it shifted the way she saw everything. She zoomed out and saw that you could become “an observer of your thoughts and that you didn’t have to be consumed with it.”
She’s always had an affinity for dreamworlds and the subconscious and meditation amplified that. Keeping a dream journal helped reawaken her inner child and it definitely shows through her clay creations.
As a new artist, what’s been your biggest challenge so far? Any word of advice to up-and-comers out there?
Well, there’s two answers. The obvious one was myself. I assumed that because I’m kind of new in such an insular world, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I told myself that for all those years but I realized there are definitely ways to break in.
All of a sudden, I didn’t have as many fears because of meditation. So I submitted my work to the independent art fairs that you don’t have to have gallery representation for. You just give your stuff to them and if they like it, they’ll contact you. It’s such a great way to meet all different kinds of people at different galleries. So you can be a loner artist but get connected afterwards, you know? I got lucky at these fairs. Many people were surprised and curious how I’d made such a large body of work on my first go around. It required a lot of focus and just diving in! Everyone was so sweet and the community of people was just awesome.
I’d say to people who are just starting out: Don’t think you need to go the traditional way anymore because things are changing a lot right now.
Could you share your most memorable moment with a viewer at an art fair?
There was a collector who came in on the Saturday [at Superfine!] it was really busy. He looked very distinguished with his grey hair. When he stood in front of my work, I thought, “Oh God, this guy looks scary. I don’t know if I should talk to him.” But I introduced myself and he was super nice and said, “This stuff — it’s really great! It’s making me feel things. You have a wonderfully bizarre imagination.” That was such a great compliment. I thought it was so cool how this person who I thought wouldn’t like my stuff… that it made him smile and it made me happy.
How would you describe your style aesthetic?
I’m very interested in ancient mythology. I love researching so I go to the Museum of Natural History and look at the ancient Mexican sculptures. I love having history behind the pieces but putting a playful spin on it that’s almost like PeeWee’s Playhouse. So they’re sacred things that I make a little bit more whimsical and funny. It’s like a weird juxtaposition, you know?
You have these fertility goddesses or these power figures but then they have these funny little faces that you can’t help but laugh at. So I mix the two worlds — sinister, serious, and sacred with the whimsical, childlike, and dreamlike and then squish them together. Almost like a mashup. Like a hamburger.
Your style aesthetic is a mythology hamburger!
I brought something to show you! It was interesting when you asked me when I started getting interested in these subconscious worlds. I drew this when I was 7 and it totally encapsulates what I do now.
I drew this whole fantasy world, with the cloud and all these things that I do now — this weird cloud Buddha thing but then I drew myself watching the whole scene. I put myself in the scene but I’m not part of it. And that’s kind of how I feel when I meditate. I’m in my life but not really in it. I’m kind of watching it now? I never used to feel that way but then I realized — I did when I was a kid!
What would you say to your younger self, now that you’re doing what you’ve wanted to do?
I would say, “Everything’s going to work out okay.” I do feel like when I was little, someone was saying that in a weird way. My family is very unconventional and kind of strange. I love them but it was not like a happy childhood, so I feel like I found escapism in art. I just kind of knew that everything would be okay.
In your feature on Creative Boom, you mention that you traveled to India for a while. What was your biggest inspiration there?
My great grandfather was a big inspiration. He was a Quaker from Philadelphia who left America in his early 20s to become a Christian missionary at a leper colony in India. But then he became a bit of a wandering monk while visiting the Himalayas… He lived in a cave for a while and meditated there, so I think that’s where I may get this from. After self reflection, he converted to Hinduism, married a woman there, had a huge family, and later went on to fight for the Indian people’s independence from the Brits. He was an amazing person and everyone in my family always talks about him. I think I have this other connection with him where I just love nature and being in a quiet place.
We visited his cave and all these different places. I wasn’t sure if my husband would like it [India] because it’s so different there but he loved it. It’s challenging because there’s this juxtaposition of horrible things you would never expect to see with the most beautiful things and they’re smushed together — like a hamburger again.
How important would you say traveling is for creativity?
I think it’s so important. Sometimes I can’t go on a trip because I have to save, so I try to go on little trips or walk a different way just to the PATH train and it stirs different pathways. But traveling is really great because you immerse yourself — sometimes in a culture where you don’t know the language. There’s different food, different smells, and different customs. It automatically makes you more alive and aware because you have to be, it takes you out of your robot mode with like going to work or the grocery store.
And for creativity, you bring your sketchbook and whatever and you just have more thoughts and more ideas. If I had a million dollars, that’s all I would do. I don’t care about shoes and all that stuff. I’d rather just have everything in a backpack and go traveling.
I know you love your studio right now, but could you describe your dream studio?
I try to envision it and I already know. It would be in nature. Right now, mine only has a tiny window. It’s fine but I’d love to just be able to walk out onto grass, lots of trees, and plants. Right now, I put a lot of plants inside but I just want to have a forest outside. I don’t want anything fancy; just natural sunlight and greenery. Like a greenhouse.
What’s your M.O. or word of wisdom that grounds you when you run into creator’s block?
I think if you’re not feeling it, just stop and do something else. I just take a couple of breaths and go on a walk. It’s amazing what 10 minutes of that does, to take yourself away from the situation. If you’re working on a piece, you’re so close to it that you don’t see it anymore. So sometimes I’ll just walk to the other end of the room to look at it. You really can see it better. Zoom out. Once again, I’m becoming that observer person. I’m all about becoming that observer, separating a little bit.
I know you started making your mini sculptures. Are there any other exciting projects you’re working on right now?
I feel like art can also be very healing for people. I noticed that too at the show because people would come and tell me personal stories. Women were really drawn to the fertility goddess that I had made, so I’m going to make a lot of those. A lot of people have trouble conceiving and a lot of my friends are having problems too and they always come to me. I feel like a little object can sometimes be healing. I like to give away things too. At the end of Superfine!, there were little ones left over so I gave a lot of them away. It’s just fun sharing the love.
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