No looking back
Artist takes the simple approach

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 04/00) - There are too many ways to begin this story.

I could tell you how walking into Sherelle Wilsack's two-storey home feels just the way I imagined it would if I walked into one of her paintings. Its space defined by clear lines and vibrant colours, where even the blue tea cup from which I will drink poses against a backdrop of rich brown and spirited yellow.

Or I could tell you about the three generations hanging on the walls. Wilsack's own deeply-coloured art, a breathtaking self-portrait by her mother and joyful pieces by her seven-year-old daughter. Wilsack adds her grandmother also drew. Beautifully, she's told.

Or I could tell you about Wilsack herself. Straight forward, no-nonsense, get-right-to-the-point talk. There are no artistic mysteries or enigmas to be unfurled here.

Her studio reflects her approach to art. Four walls, several paintings in progress leaning against two of the walls, a rectangular table in the centre of the room, a large white cloth on the floor with piles of pastels, a small shelving unit with paints and other typical materials.

Did she always want to be an artist?

"I don't think I ever wanted to do it. It's too hard," Wilsack answers, adding those feelings might have something to do with watching her mother struggle at it.

Yet the self-taught 32-year-old has been doing it full time for three years.

"It's great, the best thing I've ever done. I really didn't see any way around it."

Wilsack had been running a day care out of her home and trying her hand at art on her own time. She held her first show and sold almost everything.

"It feels really right when I'm doing it."

She works in her studio 40 to 60 hours a week, from the time her daughter leaves for school to the time she comes back.

"You can train yourself to work even if you're not in the mood."

As for any questions about the difficulty in pursuing art as a single mother, Wilsack shakes her head and points to a small work station in her studio, unnoticed until now.

"She's the perfect kid. If I go for two hours, she'll go for two and more. She is (emphasis on is) my favourite artist."

Wilsack's artistic subjects -- using mainly oil and chalk pastels and now some acrylic paint -- have so far ranged from the human nude to fruits and flowers to religious icons. She has received mixed reviews from the public. Some love her work, others don't.

Regarding flowers and fruit Wilsack says, "People have said they don't mean anything. I've tried getting away from them, but I can't. They do mean something ... and it's not sexual, it's not a penis or a vagina. It's a flower and that's what a banana looks like."

Wilsack likes the nude because of its ever-changing qualities of line, colour and shape. She emphasizes once again, that for her it's not sexual.

"In Europe they're far more open about that."

Wilsack is currently working on two series of paintings for two new shows in the spring, one at the Birchwood Gallery and one at Javaroma. Both series are based on black and white photographs, one a set of archival prints of North American Indians and one set of photographs of her own family.

"I like black and white. It's so serious. Life was hard, just to survive. I always wanted to do a series on North American Indians, but I was always afraid people would say terrible things about me because I'm not native," says Wilsack.

"But people already have said terrible things about me."

The artist is referring to a few responses to a series she painted on religious icons.

"One woman shouted across a restaurant that I stunk ... Maybe they think I was making fun of them (icons), but I wasn't."

Wilsack went to San Migel Allende, Mexico last summer to take her first art course. It was the first time she'd placed herself in the context of other artists.

"They had their special art kits, their special smocks, their special supplies. I had one T-shirt to paint in and a bag. I was really worried."

But then the art teacher told her she really didn't need the art instruction.

"I didn't need a course to learn how to push paint and pastels around, according to him anyway. I don't think I can draw. I'd never get into a university. My strong point is that I'm good with colour. I'm not scared of colour. You can learn how to draw, like anything you practice, but I don't know if you can practice colour."

This is a woman who's come a long way from the first pastel drawing she attempted.

"I balled my eyes out. It was so bad. But I went back and I haven't stopped since."