Warped and wild dreamworlds, alive with emotion and nostalgia.
The Hippest Trip in America - By Land, Air and Sea, her first-ever New York solo show, opened at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in September 2021 - a “groovy journey of self-discovery” inspired by legendary children’s TV show Soul Train.
Commissioned by Disney to create a rendition of Minnie Mouse for Mickey: The True Original, an exhibition in New York City celebrating the iconic character's 90th birthday.
Shilling is known for her vibrant paintings and ceramics of creatures and landscapes drawn from her imagination. Dogs, cats, bears, ladybirds, rabbits and even Minnie Mouse all appear with wide, expressive eyes evoking the barefaced emotion of a young child. These relatable feelings are carefully crafted by the artist through precise rendering of form and colour, resulting in works that are at once intimate and peculiar. The Chicago Imagists and Californian Funk Art, two movements active during the 1960s and 70s known for their psychedelic palettes and surreal compositions, have had an important impact on Shilling’s work. She is also inspired by contemporary painters such as Ida Ekblad and Rebecca Morris, as well as nature, jazz, cartoon characters and the children’s stationery designer Lisa Frank. Combining such disparate influences, Shilling’s unique vision manifests as an enthralling childhood daydream.
Opposites coalesce in the artist's wonky worlds: sadness and excitement, comfort and angst. A Ladybug (2018) is a bright canvas depicting a downcast ladybird surrounded by giant mushrooms, with a concerned moon looking on from above. The lilac and neon green swirls of its surroundings appear as if they are melting. Through the painting, Shilling toys with notions of empathy by placing the viewer in a position of inadvertent responsibility for the ladybird’s feelings. However, unable to change what happens within the frame, the viewer is ultimately powerless to help. Tapping into these real emotions through endearingly absurd scenes, the work swings between sincerity, melancholy and humour.
Shilling’s process is incredibly careful and reflective. Her ceramics often take a few months to complete, and her paintings can take up to a year. “I love the rush I get when I finish a piece,” says Shilling, “it's so exhilarating, [...] the victory I feel from solving an equation that essentially has no answer!” This balance of fastidious attention to detail and lawless creativity brings an uncanny surrealism to Shilling’s practice. The familiar and the strange merge exquisitely as Shilling opens up her inimitable world - welcoming us to reflect on the boundless yet universal nature of human emotion.
“My paintings tell me what they want, and I have to listen.” – Alake Shilling