Shannon Partridge is a Toronto-based painter. Her paintings respond to the curious worlds of Western zoo exhibits and mid-century modern interior design photographs. She received an undergraduate degree from OCAD and her M.F.A from the University of Waterloo. Partridge has exhibited in Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Her awards include the Ox-Bow Scholarship, Vermont Studio Center Artist Grant and Shantz Internship with painter Michael Borresmans in Belgium.
When I was doing my Master’s degree in Waterloo, I didn’t know what to write for a research paper and my professor, David Blatherwick, said to write something I was interested in. I was really interested in the history of zoos, which had nothing to do with my work at the time. He told me to go for it, so I did, and my theme evolved.
My work combines interior design images from the 1960’s, mid-century modern, with zoo exhibit designs. There’s a lot of similarities in how they’re set up. They both look like set designs, very theatrical. They usually have three walls and stage. There’s props, there’s narrative and odd lighting. It also relates to how we present ourselves in our home–the items we choose to display. For example, you might display books you’ve never read.
In zoos, they incorporate “behavioural enrichment devices” to stimulate the captive animal mentally and physically. We justify zoos based on education and conservation–people will care about the animals and therefore care about the conserving their environments. But, if you see an animal that’s healthy and fine in the zoo, why are you going to care about its habitat on the other side of the world? Then, adding these behavioural devices shatters the illusion that animals even need to live in nature. I think this relates to how we keep fresh cut flowers inside our houses.
In high school, I was very into animal rights. It’s interesting how something that’s in your past, but has always sort of been there, comes out. My grandparents lived in a ranch-style house with an atrium in the centre and as a kid, I thought it was the strangest thing. Now, that interior design style comes up in my work.
I spend a long time working on every little section of my paintings. I know people who can make a painting in an afternoon and I envy that, but I don’t think I can work any other way. I start with drawing. I don’t do a sketch, I just draw right onto the piece. I don’t draw every detail, but I draw all the shapes and figure out the perspective. I know exactly where things are going to go before I start painting.
After the sketch is done, I choose the areas that I collage. It’s sort of like upholstering furniture. I use Japanese paper and seal it with acrylic gel. Then, I go on top with oil glazes to make it more three-dimensional. I have to do the collage first because you can’t put acrylic over oil. I don’t want to start oil painting without knowing the plan. There are some things you have to plan, for technical reasons. Other things are more open and you can work intuitively.
I don’t plan the colours. I flip through second-hand photography books of interior design, or look at other things, and decide what works. In some paintings I’ve made the wrong decision and been like, ‘Shoot!’ and gone back over it. It’s not too bad to redo because I paint very thinly. There’s something about getting it right the first time, though. You can stare at a painting for a long time and imagine it different ways. I like not knowing how it’s going to look.
–Shannon Partridge, as told to Studio Beat
photos by Courtney Vokey
Visit Shannon Partridge’s website here.