The smell of canvas and acrylic hits us as we walk into the dimly lit, YOHO studio in downtown Yonkers. Colorful pieces of art hang all over the walls, providing all the sparkle and light we need. Patricia Santos humbly welcomes me into her second home with an over-the-top sweep of her arms.” Welcome! Sit! Sit!” She throws her bag and coat onto a couch in the corner and slouches into a chair at the artist table the center of the studio. I follow her to the table and introduce myself to the other artist in the room, Shanell Sharpe. “Sorry! Yeah that’s my girl, Shanell,” Santos says as she laughs and moves on to bantering with Ms. Sharpe.
I set my things down on the table and start to break out the beers. I slide them over to the ladies as I notice the intricately painted mannequin in the corner. “We found that!” Santos adds when she catches me looking. The room is full of lost and found items, repurposed into thrift shop gold. A record player and classic vinyl records are collecting dust by a lovely abstract painting. Antique luggage sits by the door, in an Audrey Hepburn, fashion. An easel rests in the back with an unfinished painting, invoking Basquiat rebellion.
Paint splatter and tools litter the table and a shelf is stocked with all different mediums and technique tools. Brightly colored, elaborate paintings cover the walls, the City of Yonkers creating the perfect background. We settle down and sip our beers and effortlessly dive into conversation about purpose, art and life.
“I have the kids working on some splatter painting that is coming out pretty cool.” Ms. Santos, an early childhood educator by profession, beams with pride as she describes a Jackson Pollack creative art activity she has been working on with the toddlers in her classroom. “They are so free and full of energy. No worries. No pressure. Just fun and expression. It is nice they have this opportunity at this age. I mean, we didn’t have that when we were young! It is not about just ABC’s anymore. Its about creativity.” Memories of paper plate animals and willow tree songs flood into my head, as we reminisce and laugh about our early education and sip our beers. Working with children and teens of all ages for a large portion of her professional life, Santos works hard to provide an elevated experience for the children in her classroom. “A friend got me into this only a few years ago. I wish it was more a part of our lives earlier on. Ya’ know?” Her 90’s inspired hoop earrings sparkle as she tilts her head to the side and spins the beer bottle in her hands.
Ms. Santos has only just recently come onto the art scene in the YOHO area in the past couple of years. Finding herself drifting through life and heading into a dark place, she turned to a friend for support. The friend suggested art as a stress relief and Santos has never looked back. “I found myself in a very dark place. You go into a bad place and have a hard time pulling yourself out of it. A lot of my work, some of my best pieces, come from there. I still go there sometimes, but art is a way to get out of your head.” Many of her paintings on the wall have intricate and complex patterns with deep and vibrant colors. Jagged lines in neon, silver or black jet across her abstract works. It is her abstract paintings that have touched so many audience members. Whether they see or feel her emotions or they reflect their own, many are drawn to these paintings. Lately, she seems to have been inspired by gender. A few paintings have layers of acrylic waves in the shape of female silhouettes and soul pulling eyes.
My attention goes to one piece in particular that resembles the back of a female silhouette with an 3D layer textured gown. She looks strong and poised, but weighted down. There is femininity in the softs waves, but exudes resilience in the deep earthy hues. “Women have so much they carry…and don’t even show it! There are demons on our backs…but they don’t define us.” A moment of weighted silence comes and I open a few more beers.
“For me, some of my best shit comes from the most fucked up places,” says Shanell Sharpe, a poet, song writer and spoken word artist that has made a name for herself in the greater New York area. She shakes her wet, curly hair out of her face as she looks distantly out into the snowy streets of Yonkers. She sits regally and shyly smiles at her friend across the table as she speaks eloquently about her family’s influence on her poetry and going to that ‘dark place’ to find inspiration. Her lyrics and poems seem to be pulled directly from her soul and reach her audience on a personal level. She uses life and experiences to reach her audience..“I was never good at science stuff. I’ve always been drawn to words.” She says this with a shy confidence, as if her work is a secret, as opposed to drawing the attention of thousands of followers.
Sharpe’s story varies from Santos in that she began her creative journey earlier in life. Poetry has been her outlet for years, providing herself with solace from pressures of life. She began writing poetry at a young age, as an outlet for troubled emotions and heartbreak. The poetry easily transitioned into songs, as hiphop and music became a huge part of her life. Inspired by family and personal experiences, her lyrics transform into stories. Whether about her grandmother, race, love, or pure emotion, the audience is able to feel her story. “It’s all about relatability for me,” Sharpe says as she sets the beer on the paint stained table, her fierce eyes looking out of the large windows. “If one person in the audience can feel something, than its worth it. Does’t matter about being good or nothing.” Sharpe has gained a huge following through Youtube and her personal social media accounts. Partly, inspired by her friendship with Santos and other personal relationships, her new single “Lights Low” marries a mesmerizing beat and soulfully cool lyrics. The music video for the single, is a beautiful homage to her lyrics and the emotions invoked to create them.
Snow begins to fall softly outside onto the dark Yonkers pavement and I become acutely aware of how long we have been chatting. We have been discussing art, influence, inspiration and experience for several hours and through a few bottles of beer. I pick up my camera and suggest a few photos to commemorate level headed, enlightened discussion. Both artists agree and we set up a pose in front of a bright abstract painting. They effortlessly pose with one another, each exuding youth and life. I snap a few pictures, capturing a few candids and posed that invoke the feeling of the night. A few photos remembering the silliness and millennialism. A few capturing the artists’ fierceness, exuberant strength and natural poise. After showing the women the pictures and them laughing with a approval, I place my Nikon into its case and pack up my note filled moleskin notebook. I walk over to the large freight elevator and push the down button. I hear the gears working hard and smile to myself. These women are embracing, talented and unabashedly open. Read their stories. Hear their voices. Let’s begin.
Shanell Sharpe and Patricia Santos