Current Exhibit: Earth & Water, paintings (2000-2017) by Shay Herring Clanton

This eagerly anticipated exhibit, which includes mostly new and some earlier works by Shay Herring Clanton, offers the viewer an opportunity to appreciate the artist’s consistent source of inspiration and her progression of style as she captures and interprets the natural beauty that surrounds her. As an environmentalist, Clanton’s artwork goes further as an intentional statement for the value in protecting natural resources. As a successful artist, a well-respected art professor (recently retired), and a dedicated activist, Clanton has earned a loyal following. The works in this exhibition include various media (oils, watercolors, ink, charcoal, and pastels) and result in sometimes striking and sometimes subtle use of color to successfully convey what she has seen: ocean waves, creeks, rivers, or forests and the play of light on each.

Artist’s Statement

“Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to that understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest- the cleared fields, the towns and cities, the highways – and re-enter the woods. For only there can a man encounter the silence and darkness of his own absence. Only in this silence and darkness can he recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him, of his inferiority to it and dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen that darkness, he will grow humble before the place and take it in -to learn from it what it is. As its sounds come into his hearing and its lights and colors come into his vision, and its odors come into his nostrils, then he may come into its presence as he never has before, and he will arrive in his place and will want to remain. His life will grow out of the ground like the other lives of the place, and take its place among them. He will be with them – neither ignorant of them, nor indifferent to them, nor against them – and so at last he will be native-born. That is, he must reenter the silence and darkness and be born again.”

Wendell Berry   A Native Hill

I am thankful to the Staunton Augusta Art Center for providing this opportunity and this beautiful space to show this body of work, created in the last ten years or so. I have never had a “retrospective” and seeing the work connected as a whole and the continuous thread of inspiration from the natural world and my “home ground” has been enlightening to me.

For much of my adult life and my life as an artist, I have made the choice (and have been fortunate enough) to live in natural places of beauty and power. These places include my family home in North Alabama in the southern Appalachians, Hatteras Island, a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, and Walker Mountain near Deerfield Virginia, where I have lived for the past twenty five years. Each night I go to sleep hearing the voices of Clayton Mill Creek, which flows next to our house, and the night voices of the trees.

My paintings are inspired and informed by the beauty and unfathomable complexity of the natural world. I realize that the process of painting from nature has also been a source for transformation in my way of thinking and being. It has provided the opportunity for focus, for paying close attention, a doorway for “re-entering the silence and darkness of the woods” that Wendell Berry writes of in the quote above. In painting the land with attention and love, I have been given a gift: an intimation of a deep and mysterious consciousness present in nature and a sense of belonging and connection and a deep and humble recognition of my small and, at the same time, significant place in the whole.

Artist Bio

Shay Herring Clanton was born in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in the southern Appalachian Mountains in North Alabama. She has lived, since 1993, on Walker Mountain near Deerfield, Virginia where she maintains her studio.

Shay received a BA with a combined major in Studio Art and Art History from Mary Baldwin College and an MFA in Painting and Drawing from James Madison University. She taught Basic Drawing, Basic Painting, Watercolor, and Fundamentals of Color and Design at Mary Baldwin University from 2000 to 2017. She also teaches watercolor workshops at Beverley Street Studio School.

Shay lived for ten years on Hatteras Island, on the North Carolina Outer Banks, where she, with other island residents, was instrumental in saving the Buxton Woods Maritime Forest and in creating the Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve. She is involved in efforts to protect the George Washington National Forest, which borders her home in Deerfield, and is currently part of the swell of citizen protest against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a massive fracked gas pipeline that threatens the watershed of the whole area.

Shay is also a student of herbal medicine with a special interest in native medicinal plants of the Appalachian Mountains. Her family’s land in Deerfield is managed as a botanical sanctuary for native medicinal plants and is part of the Botanical Sanctuary Network created by the group United Plant Savers.

In her paintings, inspired by the forests and rivers and streams of her home in the Virginia Mountains and by the Alabama landscape of her birthplace, Shay seeks to express what has informed her lifelong love of the natural world. In her abstracted watercolors of rivers and streams she records, through direct observation, her perception of a moment in time and the movement and flux of light, shadow, color and form. Her oil paintings are created in the studio and are based on watercolors, photos and drawings inspired by the natural world and by natural processes. All of her work is informed by a personal and emotional connection to place. The quality of light in both a physical and spiritual sense is always an integral part of the work.