Bayou Boss Lady Commandment #1: Recognize the merits of an opportunity even when it is not ideal – it may surprise, succeed or fail, but the life experience will stretch your mind and bore its way into your work. - Shane Allbritton
Shane with her husband and fellow artist Peter Bernick-Albritton, and their son Grayson at the opening of their collaborative installation at the SITE Exhibition, 2015.
Introducing Fresh Arts' first Bayou Boss Lady, the wonderful Shane Allbritton! Shane is an artist and designer working across a broad spectrum of disciplines and media, including large scale murals,, wayfinding, media design, suspended art, sculpture and painting. She has been a museum environmental graphic designer for two decades, creating interpretive spaces from the Buddy Holly Museum twenty years ago, to the more recent Coca-Cola Vault Museum Exhibit. Her many public art projects have seen collaborations with influential Houston-based artists such as Norman Lee. On top of this, Shane is a mother to her son Grayson, and wife to husband Peter Bernick-Allbritton (who, by the way is also an artist, so they frequently create badass installation work together). In all honesty, there is not a lot that this woman can't do. As part of Fresh Arts' new blog series, I caught up with Shane to pick her brains about what it really means to be a Boss Lady:
Shane during the installation of "Time in Motion" at Hobby Airport, Houston TX
What are you working on right now? Currently my public art studio, RE:site, is in the midst of preparing for several installations this year, in multiple locations across the country. Next month we have concurrent installs at the El Paso International Airport and the Hennepin Public Library in Minnesota. As far as personal artwork, I've been short-listed to create a large-scale artwork at one of the entrances to the George R. Brown and my husband Peter and I are developing encaustic prototypes for an upcoming Art League show. In between art projects, I wear my graphic designer hat and am currently developing environmental graphics for the National WWII Museum in NOLA, with a former design firm in DC. .
What inspires you to create? Research. Researching an interest or curiosity gives me endless inspiration. Nature, introspection, everything really – finding meaning or an aesthetic interpretation of the smallest gesture to the most profound experience is like a program constantly running in the background.
How did you get to this point in your career? Like any creative type, I become heavily involved in my projects - embracing large-scale public art works to museum design, branding for small start-ups, mixed media installations, signage, and everything in between, they all matter. The inexplicable drive to create and problem-solve is not the only reason I am at this point, a lot of it is tenacity. I’m not even sure what this “point” in my career is exactly, I just know that diversity in the type of work I do gives me the greatest satisfaction and reflects my interests and passions. Besides keeping me engaged, diverse work is literally a financial necessity – I can pick up one market when the other stumbles and keep moving forward. I am definitely a risk-taker, but I do want to sustain this lifestyle as long as I can make it work.
Public Art as an avenue is kind of mysterious to a lot of artists. How did you get involved and what resources do you use/would recommend for people trying to break into that specific career? With about two decades working as an experiential graphic designer for museums and a background in studio arts, public art seemed a logical and fulfilling direction. When I left my full-over-time, yet secure, design job to freelance for a while, I couldn’t find another company in Houston that was a good fit. A former colleague of mine, Norman Lee, had recently been short-listed to design the San Francisco Veteran’s Memorial and invited me to team up. It wasn’t long after that encounter that we realized our interpretive backgrounds- telling stories through design, technology, media, interactives, and experiences laid a strong foundation for site-specific art. In 2012, we founded RE:site to focus on narrative-based artworks and jumped straight into artist call applications. Starting out is not a walk in the park - competing against experienced and prolific artists is challenging when you’re lacking built work in public space. It is important not to let a lost commission, impact your enthusiasm. It is a time consuming process but the experience will help your proposal skills, and it is a great way to visualize and explore new ideas. One option might be to collaborate with other artists or professionals that have different backgrounds to contribute necessary depth for specific RFQ/RFP requirements. Joining your local public art agency will allow you access to calls to artists, and they are there to offer support if you have any questions. Other useful online sources for finding competitions would include callforentry.org and publicartist.org.
How do you find a balance between family life and being a professional artist?What is the most rewarding aspect, and what do you find most challenging? Balance is always the end goal – I want to be wholly immersed in creating and wholly immersed in my family, but both are demanding yet deeply rewarding and often tread on the other’s territory. I don’t have it completely figured out, but I do try to live by a few rules – Stop working by 6pm (there are exceptions here) and don’t work on the weekends (and exceptions here). I must be very mindful about scheduling business/family interactions throughout the day, if it isn’t on my calendar, then it pretty much doesn’t exist, sorry my brain is full. As far as the most rewarding aspect, having my son was an awakening that I could have never imagined. I consider him as a catalyst in opening a channel for me to create work from a place that hadn’t been very accessible before. It’s like reliving your childhood in a way, leading you down some dusty old roads from your past. My husband Peter is also a collaborator and we’ve recently begun to work together on personal art projects and installations after a long hiatus. It is fulfilling for us, yet finding the time for both parents to work on art is quite the challenge. I work full-time and Peter is a stay-at-home dad, so anytime after 10pm is our window for personal projects. The impact of this materializes as added pressure to make every move count – we don’t have time to experiment as much as we’d like. However, we still throw ourselves into the fire and stay up working all night on occasion. We do miss out on social engagements and arts around town unfortunately, but we try to go out when we can muster it.
What has been your toughest challenge as an artist in Houston? The reawakening and redevelopment in Houston, although some of it disagreeable to me, is creating an affable climate for artists. I can’t think of anything that was a tough challenge pertaining to Houston directly. I feel I’ve reached out and been presented with opportunities and a lot of support from various Houston arts organizations and art consultants.
Do you feel like your industry (pubic art commissions) is male dominated? There is definitely a sizable gender gap in public art, although female artists have made some headway in recent decades. With the exception of most arts administrators, the entire ecosystem of getting large works built is completely male dominated – from city officials to architects, installers, machinists, programmers, and so on. I don’t see it as deterrent however, but rather a motivator.
Do you feel that there are some obstacles that are specific to being a female artist/arts administrator? I don’t feel that I’ve really had the experience of gender obstacles in the arts, except for the occasional squaring off. On the contrary, I feel very supported in the arts, but the design industry on the other hand is another story.
What’s something you learned early on in your career that made you a better artist? Looking back, I am grateful that computers were not a part of my early development. I was a college senior cutting rubylith, applying letraset and doing everything else by hand, when the computer labs came. At the time, I remember feeling so obsolete. It changed everything, I mean, it was exciting to think of the possibilities! I gravitated towards it, with the crowd. But soon became disillusioned as it seemed to level out individual expression and replace free-thinking. At this point I became influenced by glitch art and the experimental typography of David Carson’s Ray Gun – all of it chaotic, abstract, illegible deconstructions as complex storytelling. So I guess my take away was to embrace new technologies and techniques as valuable tools rather than let them assume control.
What advice do you have for young female artists just starting out? Become immersed in the art culture around you and network. Become immersed in your interests – take a class, take a journey, dig deep into the root of it. Experiment as much as possible. When it falls flat, absorb the lesson and always be resilient.
Do you feel like you take ownership of your success? I don’t really think in terms of success or failure, I suppose…I just try to keep momentum. The creative industries are volatile and I have experienced the ebb and flow up close - two of the design firms I worked for were thriving one moment, and then laying off half their staff, then thriving again. My public art partnership exploded out of the gate, winning multiple commissions, then immediately flat-lined. Honestly I’m a bit superstitious to speak in such clear-cut terms - I don’t know what’s around the corner, but I know that I will keep doing creative work in some capacity and perhaps that is a success I can own.