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Finding the beauty in everything: Artist Shea Phillips

by Mallory Wyatt | January 29, 2023 at 5:00 p.m.
Photo by Erin DeBlanc

Shea Phillips has always had an eye for finding beauty in the most abstract ways -- whether it be in people, things or ideas.

From a young age, Shea was always encouraged to look at the most minutiae of details in the most unexpected places.

"I don't know what other families did for fun but my family went antiquing," she said. "We would often go into abandoned buildings and it was really just a curiosity."

Shea's father had an appreciation for antiques and would point out glasswork and intricate door knobs in the buildings the family wandered through.

Her father passed away in 2013, but he taught her her first lesson: pay attention to the little things.

"I was kind of inspired by old abandoned buildings (in one of my painting series)," Shea said. "It was actually when the 1894 building was being reconstructed and they were doing tours of it. It just brought me back because I hadn't been doing that stuff since I was a kid and I go in and it's just like 'oh wow.'"

Shea's 1894 tour caused memories to flood back to her, which sparked a series about her childhood.

"I did obscure spaces with a lot of bricks, wood and texture to kind of remind me of those spaces we went to as a kid, but also the anxiety I felt in those places," she said. "I'm trying to remember what those paintings look like-but they were very confrontational portraits."

Shea said she used a lot of string in her abandoned buildings series to symbolize being held down and the need to process certain aspects of her childhood.

"My Dad, he had lots of personal kinds of demons," she said. "He struggled with substance abuse."

Her art series on abandoned buildings was especially important to her because she created it as she was pregnant with her son. Completing the project, to her, felt like an appropriate way to honor and explore the relationship she had with her father.

Shea was also influenced by her art teachers throughout her academic career in Texarkana, which is part of the reason she came back after graduating from University of North Texas.

"While I was at school there (at Texas High School), I really just kind of honed my love for art under the direction of Debbie Nicolas and Scott Smedley."

Shea reconnected with one of her favorite teachers, Nicholas, while at an art teacher conference.

"It was just like seeing a long lost relative for the first time and we've always had such a great bond," Shea said. "So I taught at Texas Middle School for five years."

Later on, Phillips received a call from Nicholas because there was an opening at the high school for a painting teacher.

"(She told me) I think you should apply, I think you're ready," Shea said. "I taught Art I, I taught painting and AP and I did that for another five years."

In 2020, Nicolas retired to take care of her mother and her job was up in the air as for who would take over as department chair. The department of Fine Arts teachers unanimously agreed to select Shea to take over her mentor's position.

"Now I get to just be there all the time," she said. "It's kind of surreal for me sometimes being in the same building, especially if I have to walk to the library or during a transition time -- I feel like a student again."

Shea teaches outside of school as well, setting up easels at local eateries such as 67 Landing and Redbone Magic Brewery. Her adult painters who range from beginner to expert can have a pint while creating something new.

"(Adults) are just as scared as the kids to pick up a paintbrush," she said. "They're so scared they're going to fail, I really enjoy getting them in their space, hyping them up and encouraging them."

Shea said the most rewarding thing for her painting classes is watching students return time and time again, and take up the habit as a hobby.

"It's a passionate love for them now and they have this in their life. Art isn't just, you know, for elite talents that are famous or that just have this insane talent -- art is for everybody. If you enjoy it, you should do it and make you feel better."

Shea also makes custom art by request, depending on volume and her schedule. Recently, she's taken up creating architectural portraits of houses.

In addition to being an artist and teacher, Shea and her husband, Christopher, raise their son, Atlas, along with having a lovable brood of pets. They have a dog named Bella, two cats -- one female cat named Kiwi, and the other, a blind male cat that Shea has had since he was a kitten. His name is Stevie Wonder.

"I've always been an animal lover," Shea said. "I worked at an animal clinic back in college."

After her father passed away, a year later Shea and her brother Luke visited his cemetery on Father's Day.

"He (Luke) went around the backside of the cemetery and found this herd of kittens crossing the road in front of him," she said. "He called me and told me that one looked very sick and asked me to turn around."

She took the malnourished and blind kitten and nursed him back to health.

"I came to realize, you know, Dad wanted me to have this kitten," Shea said. "I've had Stevie for 10 years now."

The main mantra Shea imparts to her students is that every art piece goes through an ugly stage.

"You just have to persevere through that ugly stage to get to the beautiful stuff. Just keep going, it'll be beautiful eventually."

photo Photo by Erin DeBlanc
photo Photo by Erin DeBlanc
photo Hanging up to Dry by Shea Phillips
photo The Migrants by Shea Phillips
photo Treasures From Back Then by Shea Phillips

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