From womanhood to childhood and back again, Kristin Baugh Shiraef’s paintings take us on a journey into the dreamy, otherworldly realms of fairy tale, imagination, and beyond. Some of her latest works are featured at Vanilla Gallery’s group exhibition “Aestheticism” in Tokyo, curated by beautiful.bizarre’s Editor-in-Chief Danijela Krha.
I had the privilege of interviewing Shiraef and further exploring the depths of her work, her inspirations, challenges, as well as my own journey of interpretation and understanding into her symbolic and thematic elements. Along the way I discovered an immersive and continually unfolding story, as in the paintings and illustrations of Luna Rose and Lullabies Luster, which mirror the girl/woman paradox – complete with all of her mystery, rapturous nature, and divine complexities that manifest within the multi-dimensional self. As glimpsed in these and many other of her works, Shiraef sets the mood from her character’s gaze, which comes full circle by mirroring that of the viewer’s. This enchanting draw into the thick of fantastical narrative is simultaneously framed with elegant romanticism and feminine embellishments, further creating a mood that lulls and stirs like a melancholic lullaby.
The beautiful.bizarre Aesthetic
International group exhibition curated by Danijela Krha
April 9, 2016 | 5- 7pm
April 4 – April 23, 2016
Admission 500 yen
“Aestheticism allows each creative the freedom to capture one or more aspects of our unique aesthetic – from beautiful to bizarre, from dark to light, from challenging to innocent – and to use their creativity and unique individual style to produce their best work. Each participating artist will produce 2 signature pieces for the exhibition.”
TOSEI Bld.B2F, 8-10-7 Ginza Chuo-ku Tokyo, 104-0061 Japan
By illuminating this passage of the young woman and the voyage of her femininity, Shiraef takes us deep into the blossom of these wistful beauties, which bob elegantly through the poetry of paint. In this space, time becomes ever more subjective and the eternal moment can be quietly found within the confines of the artist’s mind as well as what has crystallized from within it. In this way, her pieces are timeless yet ephemeral – reminiscent of captured childhood dreams and memories, nursery rhymes and play pretend; the place for which youthful longing and imagination knows no limit.
“What has driven me more towards fantasy than realism is the ability it allows me to explore my thoughts outside the restrictions of ‘reality’,” Shiraef explains. “Fantasy allows artists like myself to illustrate in a way that aids children and adults alike to understand certain concepts that might otherwise be confusing under the laws of ‘reality’… Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, The Never Ending Story and The Dark Crystal are examples of fantastical stories which have charmed hearts of all demographics from all over the world, creating stories that not only help us see things in a greater light, but allow our imaginations to take flight in a world where boundaries don’t exist.”
Drawn to the fantastical and mythological, many of Shiraef’s works showcase a smorgasbord of mermaids, unicorns, fairies and nymphs. As seen in The Last of Us – an alluringly demure painting of an enchanting mermaid with glimmering scales and a steady gaze, she is both the innocent child and the intoxicating siren, representative of Western society’s patriarchal depiction of the duality of women. In this and many others, Shiraef has a knack for creating unabashed expressions and characters in rapt attention. Similarly, Other Worldly Likeness is provocatively demure, quietly bold, and softly teasing, inflecting a variety of moods and tones onto the viewer in one still image. Likewise, the varietal of blooming flowers interspersed throughout – colored in vibrant rouges, minty pastels, and burgeoning gold symbolize the bountiful beauty of nature and our intrinsic connection within it.
“I believe the environment with which I surround myself greatly affects my creativity,” Shiraef adds. “Though the way that I express my passion and desire are not solely defined by this, only guided… hard work and determination ultimately define my work.”
This idea of the unknown, powerful self-emerging – as in the work Defiance – is symbolic of Shiraef’s own determination and strong will, and parallels the breaking through the noise of self-doubt in order to stir into the light of a new day. The result, while it appears effortless, is rooted in the process of her own journey… one that has not been without challenges. Imaginative blocks, she tells me, easily hamper the creative process and leave many artists like herself at a stalemate – particularly for a young woman like Shiraef who, in recent years, had to negotiate the balance between her passion for art and music with that of her marriage and newborn child.
“The responsibilities of becoming a new wife and mother in just a few short years, the constant ache at finding the right means for expressing myself but without the knowledge of how, and the urgency to find my purpose in a talent that I still hadn’t fully explored… these were just a few things that created frustrations and ultimately a desire to give up on my artistic dream. But I never did give up. To overcome this block, I had to fight through it… I kept drawing, sculpting, doing photography, painting murals, writing music and tutoring art – anything I could do to let out what was locked inside me. Eventually through these experiences, many other doors opened for me, and my backbone, my husband and family, were there to provide me with security and support so I could freely express myself artistically – and in the best possible way.”
Family and nurturing are a huge part of Shiraef’s daily life, and comes through in her work. Both seen in The Beast, Perched, and Feral: in the former, masculinity and femininity converge together to create a protective embrace. The latter evokes self-protection and self-nurture… a safe place in which the woman can contemplate self-identity, self-actualization, and growth on an individual level. Others like My Darling show woman as herself literally one with nature as she embraces her natural being, and the tree – solid wood – blooms with flowers speckled in crimson and sunset gold. These elements of the life force – fire, wood, wind and water – are thematic throughout Shiraef’s work and continue to conjure the emerging and unfolding stages of the life cycle.
“Throughout my childhood,” she says, “ballet and dancing was my life, which captivated my imagination in both music and the beautiful art of motion… nothing compliments art quite like music, and it’s music that allows me to express even more emotion within my work…Growing up with games like, The Legend of Zelda, the fun and brilliant world of Mario, fable, folklore, and so many other fantastical worlds, not only allowed me to follow a story as one does with their favorite book, but to visually walk in the world of that artist and view their creation in every way possible… Ultimately, the ability to portray all forms of my work together in one cohesive experience – through music, artwork, characters and story – is truly an overwhelming and incredible thing. It presents endless possibilities that will entertain me for a lifetime, and hopefully, in terms of interaction and engagement, my audience as well.”
It has been a wonderfully hypnotic experience to discover the work of Kristin Baugh Shiraef. As she illuminates herself, peek inside her mind and the fantastical world that she has been able to express through her art – a world filled with enchanting fairy tales, magical lore, and a storybook brimming with magic, fantasy, and timeless beauty of intoxicating proportions.