After visiting Africa in last week’s post, I was somehow drawn back to this lively landmass across the pond, completely without trying. Trust me, when I began writing about Kanayo Ede I had known full-well we’d be discussing his Nigerian background, but I had zero idea that the candy-striped artwork of Shannon Foley Henn would take me to another African nation. It goes to show that putting two artists in similar environments is the quickest way to watch creativity manifest in two wildly different forms.
For this week’s Artist you Need to Know, life has been an adventure, and I mean this in the most literal sense of the word. She had spent the majority of her adult life, meeting Masai warriors, taking off on safaris across Kenya and attending concerts on Mount Everest. (These are REAL things people do! Incredible.) In whatever meantime there is when you’re basically a professional adventurer, Shannon has managed to find quiet moments to carry on the artistic vein that has always run through her.
V: When did you start creating art?
I started creating art from a very young age. My mom is an incredible interior designer and my dad is one of the most talented artists I know. I was enrolled in after-school art classes in elementary school and never stopped.
V: How did you develop the style you work in now/how has your art evolved over time?
I have always been enamored with modern art. My heroes growing up were Warhol and Lichtenstein and I was lucky enough to grow up in Philadelphia with one of the greatest art museums in the world. I would find myself in the modern halls staring at bright pops of color and clean lines. My favorite moment at the Philadelphia Art Museum was when my dad took me on an afternoon trip by myself, a rare moment since I grew up with 4 other siblings. We entered the main hall and were greeted by hundreds of African drummer and dancers. We met the King from West Africa and I thought it was the coolest celebration I had ever seen on Earth. Little did I know that my love for modern art and Africa would come together later in life.
V: Tell us a little bit about your career and how that influences your perspective?
S: I have had a very eclectic career path and I certainly never expected to do most of the amazing things in my life that I have been able to accomplish. After a few years following the typical corporate America path as the director of brand identity for an accounting firm in the states, I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move to Kenya and rebrand a safari company. I spent a year in the bush learning the industry and creating marketing materials. My head was going wild with all of the wildlife, the colors or the Masai Warriors clothes, the greens and blues of the plains and so much more. I fell deeply in love with Africa and have been organizing safaris for guests ever since. I then went on to run an international cancer foundation which lead me to host concerts on Mount Everest, Kilimanjaro, Mt Fuji, Machu Pichu and more. I had zero time to paint while leading trips but I collected amazing trinkets, fabric and wooden carving from all over the world that now live in our home. Most recently I moved over to Tanzania with my husband (Henn) to assist at a children’s cancer center. It was a truly emotional and difficult year. When we finally returned to the states Henn made me promise that I would pick up a paint brush for the first time in nearly 15 years. My recent works are a result of years of travels around the globe, mostly in Africa, my life in Colorado, my love of Warhol and Lichtenstein and straight lines.
V: Where did the use of lines and bold colors come from?
Primarily from my love of Lichtenstein and his crisp colors. I love the moment when I peel up tape and unveil the layers underneath. It’s like opening a gift each time! Stripes just seem to bring order to my pieces. As I started creating them I started to see that a “brand” was evolving. And I am a firm believer in a good brand leads to great marketing and sales.
V: How do you balance career/adventures and painting?
S: I consider career and adventure to all be part of the same. If I can create on an adventure, it’s the best! But if I can come up with a design while on safari that I can bring back home and paint, even better!
V: What place has inspired you most and why?
S: Kenya for sure. The feeling I have on safari is utter freedom. My mind opens up to the sounds and sights and my brain starts going wild! I need to start jotting ideas down more!
V: What is your optimal environment to create in?
S: Peace and quiet! I like to paint at night when my husband is gone to bed. I also like to paint in the woods outside our mountain cabin in Colorado. It i inspiring up here in the mountains.
V: What is the most difficult part of being an artist?
S: Knowing when a painting is going well or is done. I am my worst critic and never know when to call a piece done. Henn helps with that!
V: How do you choose the subject for a piece?
S: I keep a list of ideas on my phone. I try to balance what I like with what could be marketable. I try to tone down some pieces because I realize not everyone’s homes are as eclectic as ours.
V: What is currently inspiring your work?
S: Mountains, Ski season, Wildlife!
Shannon and her husband on Mount Everest.
V:What should we know about you that we haven’t asked about?
S: My husband and I still organize safaris in Tanzania and Kenya through our art and safari company, Uptripping.com
V: Name one thing left on your bucket list?
S: Hmmmmm I have been lucky enough to check most of mine off. I guess to stay in a glass bottom hut in Fiji or Bali for a month. oh, and to get my pilots license!
Keep up with Shannon (or try to) by following her latest adventure-inspired pieces on Vango.
Also published on Medium.