The Desert Light March/April 2017 | Page 6

An artist and web designer by training , an explorer by nature , Shelly has always been interested in the things we cannot see . It was while examining bacteria through her first microscope that she observed the jewel-like qualities of the organisms teeming in her samples . She quickly developed an appreciation for the microscope ’ s ability to deepen our sense of place in environments that , to the untrained mind , appear empty of life . It was a natural outcome to transform that scientific appreciation into art .

Shelly began carrying sample-taking materials with her always . From the detritus found beneath a dumpster in Seattle ’ s Chinatown , to water samples from the lake at a local park , she adopted and adapted the winemaker ’ s concept of terroir to pursue her curiosity about how microorganisms contribute to the sense of place in any large landscape . In a stroke of serendipity , as she neared completion of her BFA at the Columbus College of Art and Design , she was introduced to gouache , a water color technique in use for more than five hundred years . It was this exacting technique that gave her the means to translate the minuscule universes contained on each microscope slide into the luminous works such as those found in her exhibit .
In 2015 she became aware of the Preserve ’ s Artist in Residence program . “ I have a great love for the Mojave and I care very dearly for the desert ,” Shelly explains . And so , began her journey to her solo exhibit in the Desert Light Gallery which runs from March 1 – April 30 .
During a visit to the Mojave in 2015 she used the community of Nipton in the northeastern portion of the Mojave National Preserve as her base . From there she visited the Joshua Tree forests along Cima Road , climbed the Kelso Dunes , and found herself fascinated by the improbable oasis that for decades served as the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa . The oasis now serves as the Desert Studies Center , a California State University Field Station . This area is home to many unique species of plants and animals , including over 200 species of birds .
Fulfilling a promise , she made to herself in 2015 , Shelly returned to Zzyzx in early 2017 and spent more than three weeks living in Center housing , expanding her explorations of the Mojave ’ s unseen world , her collection of samples and preparing her Cell Portraits .

“ We use many senses to identify a place in our minds ...”

Cima Road Corral Seal
Shelly ’ s Cell Portraits combine traditional scientific botanical illustration with abstract painting . They are designed to be representational and identifiable , but not literal translations . Shelly describes her thinking about the Mojave Cell Portraits , “ We use many senses to identify a place in our minds , and these Portraits seek to visually combine ideas of pink sunsets , black soil crust , and brackish yellow water .”
Each piece is painstakingly crafted . The first step is to identify a site and collect a small sample of water , soil , or other material to examine . In a place as large and diverse as the Mojave , just the
6 THE DESERT LIGHT | Mar / Apr 2017