Life Influencing Work: Meet Shelley Jordon

By Danielle Cormier

Professor of Fine Art Shelley Jordon is an award-winning, world traveling artist-teacher, who came to Oregon State University in 1986. Jordon is the recipient of the Best Art and Animation Award (Hamburg, Germany) and the Los Angeles Times’ Jurors Award. Her most recent work “Still Streaming” was exhibited this fall in New York City. (Photo: Jordon with Laura Zion, a junior in fine arts with an emphasis in painting, by Zachary C. Person.)

What classes do you teach at OSU?

I primarily teach upper division painting and drawing, in a variety of media. As my creative interests continue to expand, whether it’s learning a new painting technique like “encaustic” (an ancient technique using wax, pigment and heat) or exploring painting and technology as in my animation and installation works, I always bring the skills back to the students by creating new classes or new assignments for them to experiment with and learn from as well. It’s important to stay current on art trends and issues. I document my frequent visits to museums and galleries with PowerPoints and catalogs to share with my students to keep them informed.

You have a lot of family-based themes in your artwork, can you tell us a little bit more about your family?

My art is very personal and I mostly draw from daily life. I am a wife and a mother and motherhood for female artists is very complicated and challenging. Many female artists choose not to have children. I have a lot of work about my daughter and about being a mother. There was a point in time where my daughter started pushing against me and I realized I was my mother and I felt like my mother’s daughter, my daughter’s mother, and a mix of feelings. These kinds of thoughts inspired me to make pieces like “Inhale/Exhale.

How do you balance your teaching career with your artistic career, and family?

Fortunately, the academic schedule provides for unbroken periods of creative time for full artistic immersion (for which I am very grateful), including summers, sabbaticals and fellowships, as well as the many month-long artist residencies I have participated in, both domestically and abroad. Discipline and a supportive partner are key. I have always had a studio at home so my non-teaching days are my studio days, including weekends. That has made it easier to balance, especially when my daughter was young. She knew that when I entered my studio that “mommy was going to work.”

Your piece, "Water Stories," is about your Grandfather and The American Dream. Why did you decide this was something you wanted to depict in an animated work?

My aunt had just died and I was very close to her. I thought about how my personal love of water came from her. I also had this story in the back of my mind that my grandfather had relayed to me. He told this story to me again on the last night I saw him, and he died later that night. I thought about his love of water and how it influenced his daughter’s love of water, and how that influenced mine. There are also themes of discrimination- my grandfather made his way to the United States to flee religious persecution, and then made a life here, but now we live in a country that doesn’t want immigrants even though my grandfather was a hard working immigrant in a country built by immigrants.

Your recent exhibition, “Still Streaming,” is about water and memory. What was the inspiration for that theme?

The curator of the exhibition, Lois Martin, has been writing and following my work for many years. She noticed the themes both in my painting in animation and suggested the theme for the show. So I decided to do that. Some of the places that have inspired this work are Key West, Florida; Oysterville, Washington; and Summer Lake, Oregon (which has since evaporated but was still there when I was there.) Some of my pieces specifically deal with controversial topics like resources, global warming; Flint, Michigan; and the Black Lives Matter movement. I kind of work in a stream of conscious way where I let the work go where it goes.

Your animated works appear to be 30 seconds to nearly 10 minutes long. How long does it take to create them?

"Still Streaming” took me a year, off and on, and typically the other ones take me a month to two months, depending on how many hours I am able to work each day. Each image is hand painted and there can be thousands of images. “SeeChange” was actually all made on one piece of paper.

Some pieces are more serious than others. Can you tell us the backstory to your comical animation piece, "Rat!"?

So this is a story -- it actually happened to me. About two years ago we went out of town and our house sitter told us our dishwasher flooded so we called the dishwasher guy and he replaced the pipe.The next week it floods again so the guy comes back again and yanks the whole dishwasher out and everything was chewed up and there were scraps of food everywhere. So we realized there was a rat living in our kitchen. We had to call an exterminator and eventually we were on a first name basis with him because he was at our house every day trying to catch this rat. I made it because it’s life. This is human experience- the tragedy, the triumph, and the funny moments.

Of all of the pieces in each of your shows, which one is your favorite?

You know, it’s like choosing between one's children. I love them all and I love them sometimes more than other times. I don’t have a favorite, I have love for all of them.

I am aware that you lead a popular study abroad program for art students. What can you tell me about it?

In September of 2019 I will return with art majors and minors to Siena, Italy for a one-term study abroad program called “A Tuscan Experience: Studio Art in Siena." This program runs every other year in conjunction with the Venice Biennale (one of the foremost exhibitions of international contemporary art) and includes excursions to Florence and Rome to view masterpieces. I teach two classes; “Tuscan Travel Journal,” in which students draw, paint and write in response to readings, outings, art and culture, in journals that serve as a personal form of creative expression and unique record of their travel experience. I also teach “Painting Concepts: Learning from the Italian Masters,” in which students develop their artistic skills and creativity in paintings that are inspired and informed by firsthand encounters with Italian masterpieces. Students can also study art history and Italian language in the program. One of the most rewarding aspects for me is seeing the direct impact the experience has on students’ personal and creative growth. They may start out tentative and scared, but after eleven weeks abroad, they return to OSU with much greater confidence and a broader perspective on life.

Shelley Jordon’s show "Still Streaming" was exhibited at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in New York City from September 20 - October 31, 2018. "Forest Leaves & Family Trees" was on view in the Maine Jewish Museum from September 6 - October 26. "Water Stories" was featured in “Oregon- Change, Love, & Rage” at the NW Film Festival on November 3. Work from "Still Streaming" is going to be shown at the Portland Center for Contemporary Art and Culture in the summer of 2019.

Danielle Cormier, writing intern for the School of Arts and Communication, is a senior from North Carolina, majoring in Speech Communication.