Artist finds time, space and inspiration to create on Vashon

Through Nov. 27, Vashon Center for the Arts (VCA) will exhibit artist Juliet Shen’s “Life from Decay,” an exhibit of large, 38” x 120” intricate ink drawings on Japanese gampi paper, integrating the various stages of a tree’s life.

Shen, who produced most of the work during a residency at Vashon Artist Residency, an artist’s residency program on Quartermaster Harbor founded in 2021 by island artist Cathy Sarkowsky, said that “Life from Decay” incorporates the fourth dimension — time. The works, she added, were greatly inspired by her walks in the forest and on the beaches of Vashon.

The exhibit, hung in VCA’s expansive atrium, is paired with an exhibit in VCA’s gallery, “Indigenous Art of the Salish Sea,” which features the work of 24 Indigenous artists, representing almost 20 nations, from the Salish Sea and Alaska regions.

Regular gallery hours at VCA are 12 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Shen, in an artist’s statement about the show, said she began the body of work last February, at Vashon Artist Residency.

”I had applied to the residency because I saw that the studios provided were large enough for me to work on long rolls of paper — something that wasn’t possible in my home studio,” she said. “I wanted to see how scaling up might change the nature of my work.”

Her artist’s statement details how she had been reading about the connection that takes place among trees in a forest, but had come to Vashon not knowing the island had so much forestland.

During my hikes here, I truly discovered what is meant by ‘forest bathing,’” she said. “Even walking on the beach provided revealing spectacles. I saw a tree still growing horizontally out of a cliff where a slide had evidently taken down almost everything else. Back in the studio, I took advantage of the linear space I now had on my paper canvas to paint about growth and decay that take place over time, the tenacity of all living things, and the interwoven activities that are hidden from our eyes.”

According to Shen, observation of nature is an important part of both her life experience and art practice.

“Traditional Chinese landscape paintings demonstrate a reverence for nature that is tied to the belief that the human heart is reflected there,” she said. “I believe in this philosophy, and I find instruction on how to live from my observations of nature. In this way, painting connects me to a distant heritage that was not easily accessible in other ways.

Shen grew up in New York, where her father was a translator at the United Nations. She started painting with oils in childhood, continuing through college. She earned a B.A. at Sarah Lawrence College, a Certificate of Fine Arts from The Cooper Union, and a masters degree from the University of Reading, UK, in Typeface Design. She owned a graphic design firm in Seattle from 1989–2012, earning distinction for her design of a unique digital font for the Lushootseed language.

She taught typography at the School of Visual Concepts for 17 years. Since 2012, her design and teaching careers have taken a back seat to painting.

Since 2013, Shen has exhibited in more than 20 solo or group shows. She is currently the subject of a solo exhibition curated by June Sekiguchi for the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, in Tacoma. Her art has been collected by Tacoma Art Museum, Seattle Public Utilities, King County Portable Works, and the Regional Arts & Culture Council, in Portland, Oregon. She is a member, with other local artists, of the Duwamish River Artists Residency and CoDraw Seattle.