Shon Pittman has always known that she is an artist. Long before her hands were able to create masterful abstract figurative works, her mind -- her way of thinking -- signaled to her that her artistry would reveal itself in due time.
Shon brought that artistry to TILA Studios in her solo exhibition, Bustani Ya Muses. Her combination of delicate graphite drawings of nude Black women and colorful and textured abstract backgrounds work to challenge the hyper-sexualization of Black women’s bodies and showcase their softness and beauty.
Shon sat down with me to discuss Bustani Ya Muses, the soulful voyage that led to self-discovery, coming into her own as an artist.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I went to North Carolina A&T (Aggie Pride). I got my Bachelor of Science in Biology. The goal was to go to medical school, but my senior year something in me decided to change courses. I picked a major that I believed was going to make me money. I was good at science. I love science. I love anatomy. I like learning and discovering. Always being a creator, science was the closest thing to art to me. That was my path, but I was super stressed out. Art kept me afloat. I took my first drawing class my junior year and I really liked it. My senior year I took my first painting class and that was a challenge because I had never painted before. When I took my first painting class it’s like something clicked. I was like, “I feel happy doing this. Why not do this all the time? Why not always feel happy?” So I made the decision to not pursue my medical career and change to my long lost love of art.
Were you afraid to make that decision?
Definitely. I was scared of my mom. I still am scared of my mom [...] I graduated. I did what I had to do and I took my MCAT but I didn’t put a lot of effort into it because I had already made my decision that I wasn’t going to do it. I did it to satisfy her, but when I moved back home I told her I wasn’t going to pursue science.
When was the first time you told someone you’re an artist?
Four years ago when I started. That was the beginning of the beginning. That’s when Soulful Voyage was birthed.
What is the meaning of Soulful Voyage?
I created the name Soulful Voyage because I wanted a word or phrase that encapsulated what I was personally going through and what I felt a lot of people go through. I had this epiphany before I graduated of wanting to change -- of wanting to settle within the person I knew that I was. I wanted a phrase to encapsulate that transition. I was listening to Fantastic Voyage and it was like “that’s it!” Voyage! This is a soulful voyage. The voyage of discovering your inner soul. Everyone has that when they’re trying to figure out who they are, where they want to go in life and what’s next. Everyone has a soulful voyage.
How has your art evolved since graduating from college?
TREMENDOUSLY. I was afraid of color. I was emulating a lot of people’s style that I liked because I was trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t know anyone who was an artist. I really didn’t know what to do. Social media was my guide. I didn’t know what a highlight or a shadow was. From that to what I created [for Bustani Ya Muses] you can see the growth. You can see the confidence. That’s the main thing. I’ve built so much confidence.
Where does that confidence come from?
It comes from accepting myself more. I took a step back from the art scene, focused on myself, rebuilt my faith up, talked to God. I say this thing everyday: “You gave me this gift. Guide my hand wherever you feel it should be led. Wherever you take me, I’m here for the ride.” I feel like once you get to that place of release and surrenderance in a higher power that’s when your life becomes more peaceful. That sounds like a soulful voyage doesn’t it?
How would you describe your style?
I like to say abstract figurative because it’s a mixture of multiple styles. I like to call it organized chaos. I got the detail and softness of the figure. I have the chaos and texture of the background. That’s kind of how my mind is. It took me a while to get there. It took me experimenting with a lot of things.
I give Shanequa Gay credit even though she doesn’t want to take it. I asked her to be my mentor because I didn’t know what I was doing and I loved her work. I sat down with her and she put it in my head. She said, “Why don’t you try mixed media?” You’re not limited to one thing with mixed media. She put the spark to do mixed media. She also ignited the spark to do my style that I have now on a bigger scale. She doesn’t directly say it. She just asks me the question that puts it in my head like, “Have you tried mixed media? Why don’t you go bigger? How can you incorporate science into art?” Those questions get my mind going.
What brings you joy as an artist?
When my family comes out and sees my work.
What inspired Bustani Ya Muses?
The Italian Renaissance is one of my favorite periods of art. Like Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo. I love those artists because they did figurative work and I’m a big figurative, anatomy lover. I was looking at some Italian Renaissance work and I was looking at the women that were portrayed nude. They had a softness and glow. I really liked the feel of it. I asked myself how I could portray women like that.
When I thought of muse I thought, the number one muse in the world in the world is the woman, but specifically the Black woman.
What are a few of the challenges you experience as an artist?
Finding where you belong can be hard. The art scene, in my opinion, is cliqued up in Atlanta. There are so many avenues and paths you can take. There are so many people trying to do so much stuff. You have to figure out which direction is right for you.
What is the number one thing you feel people should know about you?
I am regular as regular can get. I have learned in this art thing there are going to be people who admire you and really look up to you. I want to remind people, if I am your favorite artist, I am still regular. I don’t want to say don’t put me on a pedestal, but it does make me feel weird because I can fall at any time. When you see me know, I am as cool as a polar bear’s toenail. I don’t mind answering questions or giving advice. I’m just like the average person. I work hard and I’m still learning. I’m far from perfect.