Fantasy Menagerie

Artist Lynnette Shelley is running her exhibit “Menagerie” at the Painted Bride until Feb. 16.

When artist Lynnette Shelley’s mother told her Irish fables and fairytales as a child, she probably didn’t expect it’d permeate into her future career.

A story enthusiast and animal lover, Shelley is also a Philadelphia-based artist from Delaware who has an exhibit, called “Menagerie,” at the Painted Bride Art Center on display until Feb. 16.

“I’ve always liked animals as I grew up,” Shelley said. “As I got older, I read about various mythologies. I would read anything in that realm.”

Shelley picked up art from an early age, but she said she never thought it would end up as her career.

“I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil,” Shelley said.

At the University of Delaware, Shelley majored in journalism and wrote for the university’s newspaper. At the same time, she took art classes on the side, but never thought much more about it.

“I had always done art, but it never occurred to me that I could make a living or career out of that,” Shelley said. “I had always been a good writer. Dad wanted me to be on air, on a newscast.”

After finding little satisfaction in journalism, Shelley realized she was sick of jumping from job to job, working long hours for little pay and being stressed over a job that didn’t make her happy.

That’s when she decided to become a freelancer, mostly offering graphic design services. The more graphic and computer-based art work she did, the closer she became to being able to do her passion – fine arts. Shelley said it’s helpful for a young artist to be computer savvy, and that the Internet is a good tool to build on. Now, Shelley is in a position where she can mostly work with the fine arts.

Not only has the fine arts taken up time in Shelley’s life, but so has another form of art: music.

“You see, art is my profession, basically very solitary except in a show,” Shelley said. “Music is my outlet where I can work with other people. It’s different because it’s an outward performance, art is very solitary. Music, you get direct feedback as it is being done, art on the other hand, you don’t get any feedback till it’s out there.”

Shelley is the lead vocalist of a group called The Green Cathedral. She was also the cofounder of The Red Masque, a rock band signed to Beta-lactam Ring Records in Portland, Ore. The band has released a number of recordings and played at festivals.

Bringing together her love for tribal arts, folktales, wild animals and mythology, Shelley described her work as “very distinctive.”

This self-proclaimed distinction is what she attributes to her success. In the past, Shelley has had work displayed at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and the Sacramento Fine Arts Center, among other places.

With connections in Canada, a friend of Shelley’s submitted her artwork to appear in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival in an animated short called “The Spider is the Web.” A few of her “creature drawings” can be seen during the film.

Now, Shelley works as the marketing director and co-curator at JAM Gallery in Malvern, Pa. She is represented in JAM, as well as in Blank Canvas Gallery in New Hope, Pa., and Mala Galleria in Kennett Square, Pa.

Shelley said she loves the feeling that art can bring to people, whether they are an artist or not.

“Every artwork is your baby,” Shelley said. “Everybody wants some kind of success. I’m coming from a technical perspective, but what some people will like is something that I didn’t see, which I like. People may or may not have worked in art, but they will find something that they connect to. I think you can look at art in many different layers, people can get different things from anything visual.”

Chelsea Finn can be reached at    

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