Shantel Miller is a Jamaican-Canadian visual artist (born in Toronto, ON). She received an MFA in Painting at Boston University and a BFA in Drawing and Painting from the Ontario College of Art and Design. In 2021, she received the Dedalus Foundation MFA Fellowship in Painting and Sculpture, the Elizabeth Greenshield Award, the Esther B. and Albert S. Kahn Career Entry Fund and is currently the Ujima Boston Project Artist Fellow for 2022-2024. As part of Shantel's Arts and Cultural Organizing Fellowship with Ujima, she took workshop participants on an artistic journey, unearthing her own creative process, inspirations, techniques, and influences.
The Ultimate Gift, Oil and Tape on Canvas, 72 x 48 inches, 2019-2021.

  On Vulnerability & Capturing the Human Experience
As somebody who grew up in the church, after moving to Boston for school, I grappled with the intersections of religion and identity by confronting the insidious role Christianity played in the United States. For the first time, in a visceral way, I was learning about this tension of what it means to be a Black woman in the US in my body. During that time, I began looking inwardly at myself as a means to develop more intimacy with my various parts, as well as document the process of self-actualization through the act of making. The practice of slowing down and looking at oneself makes room for direct communication between the subject and the viewer, where transparency, vulnerability, and intimacy are more accessible. I’ve made self-portraits as well as painted people that I know as a means to identify my own subjectivity as a complex human and reveal multiplicity within representations of Blackness.

In Woman In Tub (Entomb), the tub could be seen as a casket where a body is put away. This view is typically not accessible to most, and the orientation is spliced open for the viewer to witness. I set up these conditions for this reality to be made known, for the invisible to be made visible, and to invite the broader public into my lived realities. In the same piece, the face is obscured, which renders the figure anonymous and suggests an intentional erasure of identity. The body is in the nude and exposed, leaving them vulnerable yet concealed as selected information is withheld from the viewer. The figure is cramped in the space and uncomfortable. I’ve been told that this pose of lying on your back signifies surrendering to what is beyond you, and for me, this is a striking contradiction of surrendering to this place of discomfort and also holding the tension that’s apparent in the flexing of the foot. For me, this indicates that there is still life present in spite of what is perceived as a tomb, pointing toward hope. 
On Color

At times, color is used metaphorically to bring seemingly unrelated or abstract ideas together in the pictorial space. Working in this way creates complexity and ambiguity in the subject matter and offers multiple interpretations of meaning. I use color and light to provoke emotional tonality in the subject matter. The choice of color can suggest the temperature or a specific mood, as well as provide structure within the composition. In my painted spaces, color plays an integral role in leading the viewer through the implied narrative and performs as the subject's interior space.

Woman In Tub (Entomb), Mixed Media on Paper, 36 x 72 inches, 2020.

In my process, I typically work with a photo as a reference, and through the act of painting, the image shifts through my color choices. As a result, the color tends to either foreground the figure in ways that the photograph did not, or it brings the viewer into a heightened sense of the figure’s reality. For instance, We Are Together Again is about restoring a love and connection that was lost. The vibrant yellow suggests an atmosphere that is joyful and celebratory. In this significant moment, I’ve chosen warmer, even juicy colors that ignite sensation and excitement, companies with the gestures of these two figures locked in hands and powerful eye contact.

Stefan Stepping Out, Oil on Masonite, 16 x 12”, 2020-2021 

On Navigating the Public & Private

My art practice is a way for me to make meaning of life, and painting in particular has offered me strategies to navigate a public and private self. This is important to me as an artist because growing up I really needed an outlet to express some of the complexities within my lived experiences, and this has enabled me to process them through the act of making. Over time, it has been a tool of survival. As someone who grew up in a religious environment, there is a separation between an ethereal world and the broader world, and this plays into my need for connection. I hope that through this active communication, I am able to connect with something beyond myself. So painting has grown to become vital for me to understand myself in relation to what is around me and my proximity to those things.

Each painting has a flat surface that operates as a portal into complex multidimensional pictorial space. Working within this paradox, I explore notions of interiority through practices of looking that reflect an outward and inward mode of being and affirm authority and existence in representations of Blackness. Inspired by my immediate surroundings, each painting synthesizes lived and imagined experiences through a language of symbolism. I embrace collage as an improvisational device for world-building. From this vantage point, I explore interiority in my paintings by representing a psychological space with my use of color and depiction of the body in familiar domestic spaces. Through these representations, the body is situated in a specific context that weaves together a conversation about time, space, and presentations of the public and private self.

On Spirituality and Existentialism

In the Coming Out Series, isolated human legs protrude out of doorways traversing between dark and light and are grounded in multicolored surroundings. This part of the body is used symbolically as a gesture to represent people stepping into a new reality boldly with grace and strength. This series was birthed during the pandemic after witnessing the collective energy of Black and Brown communities empowering each other for social mobility online that broke through many psychological thresholds in the physical realm. The paintings mark a significant moment in history whereby the Black body redefined itself within public space. Hidden notions of what it meant to exist in these bodies came to light and transformed in ways unseen before. This grand social event is synthesized in these paintings and was contemplated through the lens of Womanist Theology which considers intersections of race, class, sex, social justice, body politics, and ableism as frameworks for ministry and how life is experienced. Christianity is one of the primary ways through which I ask questions, seek to understand people, and share stories. The gesture of one “Stepping Out in Faith” mirrors one coming out in their identity. The all-over color treatment holds the figures in a liberatory state as a way to solidify and celebrate the moment.

I view painting as a practice of devotion, whereby my spirit and energy are poured into the subject through steadfast listening and conviction. The act of participating in creation is a process of establishing a relationship with the work and the viewer.

I am dedicated to the lives and minds of people so that they have hope and recognize their value through art. When I look at a painting of a person, I see a reflection of myself; however clear or distorted the image is, the connection is there. To see oneself is to have a vision for life. To have vision is to have hope, and hope carries us forward.

We Are Together Again, Oil on Canvas, 29.5 x 24”, 2022