We catch-up with oil painter, Shanna van Maurik, as she takes us to her other-worldly studio dreamscape, Scumland. Her paintings feature muses inspired by the rebellion and awkwardness of our youth. She’s your resident advocate for doing whatever you want and we’re here to take some pointers about living life for yourself.
Tell us a little about yourself, your academic background, and your style of painting.
My name is Shanna Van Maurik. I graduated from OCAD for drawing and painting in 2011. I’m an oil painter who paints female characters in a world of my imagination known as Scumland. I consider myself a visual storyteller.
What is Scumland?
I think of it as a place stuck in permanent nostalgia. Growing up, not fitting in, first kisses, sneaking beers and getting up to no good outside in parks and forests because you still live with your parents. I find the awkwardness of youth kinda beautiful. My subjects are all like trapped in this weird wandering around after school world. I guess I'm just trying to capture them in candid moments there. I see my portraits as almost yearbook photos capturing the real moments of youth instead of ones in a staged academic environment. Everyone in Scumland is kinda gross, imperfect and a second-rate version of their real world selves. I've always felt a little bit out of place and I think that's part of where being an artist comes in. I love doing things with my hands and creating. If you can’t afford something or something isn’t given to you, you can make what you have special as long as you're creative. If you don't fit into this world, make your own.
You typically paint portraits that at first look are feminine and whimsical, however upon closer inspection the subjects tend to contrast that with apparent looks of despair and boredom. Is there a meaning behind the contrast?
I feel like my high school memories have that kind of contrast you described. It's one of the most exciting times of your young life but I also think of being trapped at school, getting grounded, being angsty and generally just not impressed with anything. So I'm not intentionally trying to create that contrast but I guess it just comes from my own memories and experiences.
So these are kind of your made up muses that inspire your portraits?
I use references I find online, sometimes I paint people I know. For me, references are only a jumping off point and I build onto them with elements I have seen in real life or dreamt or imagined. Like, maybe I saw someone with cool hair, or a cool hat, and then I’m like I want that and I put it together. It’s almost like styling imaginary people. I go to a lot of concerts and shows around Toronto and I draw a lot of inspiration from that kind of culture and fashion there, and the people I see.
So you create these muses, some of them are men, but a lot are women. We noticed some of your work such as "Pussy Power" and "Go Cat Call in Hell" has feminist leanings. Is this important for you to have this voice in your work?
I am aware I have kind of a feminist voice, [or that is] how it appears to people, but I feel like I just paint what I like to see. I like painting women. Although I have tried painting men recently, it's just not as fun for me. I feel like there's more to play around with fashion with women than there is with men. With the “Pussy Power” stuff, it’s just about owning what you have. “Go Cat Call in Hell” is about that feeling everyone knows when you walk by a construction site or group of guys and they all yell at you. It sucks, and it’s about telling those jerks to fuck off. Even if they don’t read the pin you’re wearing and they still catcall you, it’s more about women standing together and talking about it. Its funny that wearing a pin can make you feel like a little tougher but for me it does.
So you talked a lot of about your portraits being a way of styling people. Does your aesthetic in your work translate to your personal style? Is it important to you to have your own unique fashion style as an artist?
Yes 100%. A lot of the time I will be wearing something, and then I will paint someone wearing that same item. Some of my paintings, these made-up people are wearing MY jacket or MY pins. I blend different things together from what I own and what I see around Toronto or wherever I am at the moment. My paintings could be seen as sort of a visual fashion diary at times.
Well, Fashion has a lot to do with mood. And this can be very personal. Do you dress for situations, or based on your mood? And do you think that clothing has the ability to change how you are feeling?
I wouldn’t really say I dress for my mood, but I really only wear things that make me feel good. I don't know what it is but there's always those staples in your wardrobe that you feel good in. I wear a lot of bright prints and vintage, but also sometimes a lot of black too. I buy most of my stuff at thrift stores and alter or add elements to them. When you take time to put your own personal touch on something it can be really special. Because so much of my stuff is diy or one-of-a-kind I get really attached to pieces in my wardrobe. Wearing those personalized items just always makes me feel good.
It's often said that art people dress better than fashion people. What do you think about this?
Fashion people are probably more in tune with what’s actually cool, or trending. I feel like I just see what I like and I wear it. Maybe people in the fashion world are so caught up on trends that they are like “Oh I can’t wear this, it’s so out” but I’m like, ‘I just like this’. I’m not speaking for all art people. Maybe artists wear more what’s visually appealing to them and not just what is trending. I just know when something appeals to me, I don't really care what other people think of it. But regardless, I do appreciate fashionable people who kind of blend both worlds. Even if something isn't my taste, I always love seeing people who express themselves through their appearance.
What is your favourite fashion memory?
When I was little my grandma would always wear these bright knit cardigans and dresses in pinks and other saturated colours. She smoked cigarettes and there would always be a bit it of hot pink lipstick left on the end. I will always remember that. My other grandmother, would always be making her own clothing. She would buy a blouse and dye it herself. She loves antiques and would wear so much cool jewelry. I feel like I picked up the best parts of my style from my grandmothers.
Finally, being a creative person can sometimes be hard and discouraging, especially when working for yourself. Do you have any advice for making it work?
Keep doing it, that’s the most important thing. Art is hard and it's a pretty even balance between the most frustrating thing and the most rewarding thing you can ever do. There were a lot of years after school, where I didn’t make any money for my work. Even though I graduated in 2011, I pretty much didn’t start making money until about a year ago. I was just doing it for myself. I guess - don’t use money as a motivation, because it’s probably not going to happen for a while. At least for me it didn't, it's different for everyone though. It’s actually so satisfying to start getting paid for this thing you were just doing for yourself all along. What you learn on the way there is the most important, just figuring out where you are going and honing your skills. I don't think that learning ever ends though. I try to do a painting at least once a day. For every good painting I make there's probably another that I toss away because I hate it. It's an ongoing cycle that I have to keep in motion or else I wouldn't make any work at all.
Check out Shanna Van Maurik's Scumland @nogobed on instagram and shop at scumland.bigcartel.com.