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Sheila Harrington’s Celebratory Paintings

Buoyant, oil, by Sheila Harrington. Winner of the Chameli & Amiya Bose Saha Memorial Award for Best in Show.
Buoyant, oil, by Sheila Harrington. 6″ × 6″. Winner of the Chameli & Amiya Bose Saha Memorial Award for Best in Show.

For artist Sheila Harrington, each day is a celebration. Each day is also a work day — whether that means sketching, illustrating, graphic design, or painting.

With the calendar as her muse, Harrington has filled sketchbooks, created an art blog, and painted an ongoing series centered around food and the landscape. The unconventional landscape above was named Best in Show in this month’s “Landschap” landscape exhibit, so we took the opportunity to find out more about the artist and her work.

Is this piece part of the same series as the works in your 2015 “Each Day is a Celebration” exhibit? How would you describe this series?
Sheila Harrington: Yes, it is. The series actually grew out of years of keeping sketchbooks and then an art blog, in which I looked at (sometimes seriously, occasionally humorously) various aspects of the festivals of the year, the cycles of nature and the juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made. The paintings have been a more formal exploration of this preoccupation.

What was the initial inspiration for combining still life and landscape in this way?
It’s an evolution from the tabletop still-lifes with which I began. In their own way, the still-lifes are also landscapes, but I’ve been working on expressing a more complex “story” by bringing in elements of landscape and architecture. I’m also starting to bring in a figurative element, but that’s difficult to manage subtly without the figure becoming the focus.

Lemonade, oil on linen on panel, by Sheila Harrington. 6″ × 6″.

Where is this landscape?
It’s inspired by the Dordogne region of France, but not literally depicted.

Are all your paintings this size? What appeals to you about the small format?
Many are, but some more recent work is somewhat larger, because of its increasing complexity. I really love the small size, though, because of their feeling of intimacy. I also like the challenge of trying to express a large world in a small space.

What connects the balloon to the cabbage and endive?
Ah, that would be telling! My preference is to leave interpretation to the viewer.

However, I will say, hmmm … I was trying to convey parallel and contrasting experiences: elation/communion/departure, nearness/distance, both physically and psychologically. (A lot to ask of an endive.) It’s the first time I’ve tried to put words to it, even inwardly—when I’m painting it’s all visual and felt, and something seems to work, or not.

Nine paintings from “Each Day is a Celebration,” a series by Sheila Harrington.
Nine paintings from “Each Day is a Celebration,” an ongoing series by Sheila Harrington.

Sometimes viewers have revealed to me what I hadn’t fully understood was there, or they have found something personal to themselves—that is very exciting.

Other than oil, what media do you work with?
In my sketchbooks I use a lot of pen and ink and watercolor.

What’s your creative process like? What’s a typical day of painting?
I try very hard to keep a regular work day in the studio. It gets interrupted, of course, like everyone’s, with other tasks — carpooling, taking the dog for a walk, the basement flooding, etc. But I’m pretty obsessively disciplined. If I’m not working on something, it feels wrong. I carry a sketchbook and planner with me everywhere and I work out ahead of time roughly what I want to be working on. Pretty much everything takes longer than I think it will, but I have definite goals.

What are you working on now?
I have in progress a number of new paintings in this series. I have several graphic design deadlines (that’s my early training, and my bread & butter work). I also have a completely different project, a line of whimsical illustrated cards that look nothing like my paintings. For years I made one-offs for friends’ various celebrations and my husband convinced me to do more than that. They are fun for me to do and are carried by some shops in DC.

“Landschap” is on view through Sunday, September 4.

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