Shelby Feltoon wakes up to inspiration every morning.
“I roll over, and the first thing I see is the art I’m working on,” she says.
Like many emerging artists, Feltoon’s life is a balancing act between her creative and practical needs, so her living arrangement helps her kick-start her creative day.
“My roommates gave me the largest bedroom so I could do my work, with the agreement that it wouldn’t spill out into the rest of the living space,” she says. “It’s been good as an artist to be crammed into the same space as my work.”
Feltoon graduated from Suffolk with a BFA in 2018 and works primarily in printmaking, but also in oil painting and experimental photography. Plus she is a curator who sees exhibits as a way to bring people together. To make the rent, she begins work as a kindergarten teacher in September, and she will continue reviewing Suffolk applicants’ portfolios as a part-time employee of the University Admission Office.
Her philosophical view of art is that it should build community, which is the root of Feltoon’s interest in curation. She recently responded to a call for an emerging curator to create a pop-up show for the Kingston Gallery and won the assignment.
Bringing artists together
“As I start my career in the art world. I’m interested not so much on sales of artwork but in how art is bringing people together to talk about ideas,” says Feltoon. “I can do that through curating while building relationships with and among artists.”
Her first experience with curating a pop-up exhibit came when she was a student gallery ambassador working with Suffolk Art Gallery Director Deborah Davidson, who offered her the opportunity to create a show.
“Because I’m a printmaker, I wanted to do a print show,” says Feltoon. She invited other printmakers who were independent of one another for The People’s Prints exhibit. The gallery reception drew more than 50 people, and the artists hung out and got to know one another. “Many were folks I didn’t know super well, but it led to collaborations” among the print artists.
Davidson praises her former gallery ambassador for her all-around performance.
“Shelby learned good installation skills and is a good writer,” says Davidson. ”We often try to get classes to come in to the gallery, and she would take over and lead an activity,” such as a slow looking exercise with first-year English students.
Davidson, too, is interested in bringing artists and others together to share ideas, and Feltoon and her friend Meagan Hepp, Class of 2016, help Davidson with her off-campus Catalyst Conversations lecture series, which demonstrates the many ways that art, science, and technology connect.
“An idea community”
“Shelby uses artworks as the basis for communication,” says Professor Audrey Goldstein, chair of Suffolk’s Art & Design Department. “Many visual artists create work in their studios but have few venues beyond social media for sharing the work. Shelby’s experience of working at the Institute of Contemporary Art coupled with the opportunities she had as the gallery ambassador here at Suffolk gave her the tools she needed to kick her studio practice up a notch. She is obviously very ambitious but also grounded in reality. She understands how to create the environment for an idea community without sacrificing her own creative imagination. I admire and am proud of her commitment and ambition.”
Following the success of The People’s Prints popup, Feltoon curated exhibits at the former Post Cubicle Gallery in Kenmore Square and the Stove Factory Gallery in Charlestown. She also does pop-up art sale/exhibits with artist friends—which she likened to yard sales—in her apartment and elsewhere.
Exhibiting with friends
Pinky promise, is the title of Feltoon’s Kingston Gallery pop-up, borrowed from a playground description of a pledge made while linking baby fingers.
“Much like this gesture, the artwork in this show expresses the promises we make to ourselves and others through our studio practices,” writes Feltoon in the exhibit’s promotional materials.
Pinky promise features Feltoon’s work alongside that of Hepp, Suffolk alumna Katie Lane, Class of 2016, and Cameron Boyce, a friend Feltoon met through the community of young Boston artists. It runs Aug.14-25, with an opening reception at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at the Kingston Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston.
“Being an artist is weird because people ask who your favorite artist is, and people tend to choose someone in the canon,” says Feltoon. “But I find my favorite artists among my friends, whose work I know so well.”
She chose the pinky promise artists based on how their work would complement one another in the gallery. Hepp and Lane both use pink in their work, which inspired the exhibit title.
Feltoon sees similarities between her own work and Boyce’s. Both integrate text and language, and each influences the other. Boyce also exudes a child-like quality through his art. “He would like to make something look as if he were 8 years old.”
Meanwhile, Feltoon’s work “deals with themes of memory and relationships. I’m trying to understand the memories of others through my relationships with them.”
In addition to bringing people together, Feltoon’s curatorial efforts help keep her focused on creating even as she juggles many additional roles. Being a curator gives her set tasks and deadlines for scheduling, producing publicity materials, and generating work for an exhibit.
“Curating gets me into the studio, and self-imposed deadlines are the biggest motivators for me,” she says. “If I don’t produce work for an upcoming exhibit I let myself and others down.”