September 3rd, 2021

Encaustic artist Shawna Moore has always been an adventurer at heart. From her frequent surfing trips to Costa Rica to her avid skiing around the Western US, Moore cannot help but imbue her work with her own sense of adventure. The fluid movement and energy of the ocean waves and powder snow melts into her encaustic wax, encasing her paintings in layers of vivid landscape and the feeling of its motion.

This past year, however, Shawna Moore took on one of her greatest adventures yet: a six-month sojourn on Oahu, Hawaii, where she surfed, practiced yoga, sketched, and learned to find peace in the midst of change.

We’re now thrilled to welcome the artist back to the mainland for her new show, “Light + Space,” inspired by her tropical adventures. Here we chatted with the artist about her time in Hawaii, the pros and cons of creating art outside of the studio, her latest surfing adventures, and the impact island living has had on her latest body of work.

Gallery MAR: How long were you visiting Hawaii and what prompted your extended trip?

Shawna Moore: My husband and I spent the winter on Oahu after a friend offered his home to us (as house sitters). He was away skiing, so he wanted the security of having someone there and to make sure the grass got mowed. We were not sure how the COVID ski season was going to go in Montana after many resorts closed the year before. The hope was to spend time outside, exercise, and stay healthy. Our daughter attends the University of Hawaii on Oahu, so with her permission, we decided to take the plunge.

Gallery MAR: Could you briefly describe your experience in Hawaii as an artist?

Shawna Moore: In my mind I saw myself setting up a studio to do some work in Hawaii. The reality was quite different. I did have some space outside, but the weather was shifty, and I couldn’t feel as free as I do in my own studio. I made three big paintings based on color studies. One of them I stretched when I came home, but I’m still not sure if it’s done. Nevertheless, I like it as a memory. The other two I will unroll at another time, and they’ll be nice to revisit. 

Mostly I worked in my sketchbooks which has been my go-to when out of the studio. We go on a truck camping trip, and I drink coffee and work in my sketchbook in the mornings. If I am surfing, I’ll do little color studies with gouache and watercolor while I wait for the next yoga class. I’ve been happy taking these impressions home after an extended trip and translating them into larger work.

Gallery MAR: What about your experience in Hawaii as a surfer and outdoor enthusiast?

Shawna Moore: When you show up to the same spots almost everyday for six months, you really get a sense of how a place works. You can start to predict the tides and the delay of the swell. You start to see the same people and occasionally you get a nod or a wave. At one of our favorite surf breaks, I was surfing on the outside with two older local men. It was earlier in the trip and the waves were bigger that day so I held back a little and made sure not to get in their way or drop in on them. One guy paddled over and said, “This is our spot. We surf here everyday…you take any wave you want, and don’t worry about us.” That was it: Big Al was my new BFF. They had known I was a little hesitant out of respect, and they invited me in. It boosted my confidence, and I started surfing better that day and knew we could all have fun together for weeks to come!

Gallery MAR: What did you find most inspiring about your time in Hawaii?

Shawna Moore: Well to tell you the truth, the first month was not inspiring and I really struggled. Granted it was the fall of 2020, so COVID was still very active and scary. I was so excited to get there and then once there, I felt completely adrift and isolated. I thought, “My God, what have I done?” I even joked with some of my friends back home that only Shawna Moore could bemoan a six month vacation in paradise. I think it was just a lot of change. It took accepting that and also realizing how fast six months goes by these days to help me. I thought, “If this really is a huge mistake (leaving my work and studio and home routines behind) then I will learn from that.” 

After a month or so, I joined a yoga/Pilates studio, bought into a local farm share, and started to have a routine with my daughter, her boyfriend, and his parents. Connecting with other people is important to me. One of the greatest stories for me is surfing one day at Rockpile near Ala Moana on the south side of Oahu. I could have sworn I heard a guy say to a woman “So you’re an artist and you just paint stuff all day?” I’d seen her out surfing. She was my age and she was fit. The next time I saw her, we randomly began to chat and, after a bit, I told her I had overheard that conversation. She said she was in fact an artist and we laughed at ourselves, these two moms who paint, ski, and surf with their husbands. It gets weirder because we even have a similar art style, although we use really different materials and methods. It was inspiring to meet Kathleen Jacobs, and I know we both hope to find each other again and surf.

Gallery MAR: Do you feel that your experience in Hawaii has informed your new work? If so, in what ways?

Shawna Moore: I did a series of color studies in Hawaii that I recently framed, and I took them with the new work to Gallery MAR for the “Light + Space” exhibition. Those sketches made in Hawaii, exploring movement and color, set the stage for the work. So, yes! I do collect photos of water on my phone but never work from photographic reference. It feels too tedious. Lately it just seems like the ripples, waves, and water come directly out of the painting process. When I think about that I remember how many times I’ve watched for the bump of a wave or gazed to the horizon when surfing. I live on the edge of Whitefish Lake and I spend many mornings and evenings looking out across the lake. It’s inside me after all these years.

Gallery MAR: Where else did you find inspiration for your latest work?

Shawna Moore: Recently, I’ve been mining the work of other artists, both now and throughout art history. Brice Maren painted his “D’après la Marquise de la Solana,” as a response to Goya’s portrait of the Marquise. His translation of the 18th-century figure into the language of reductivist abstraction is a distillation of the color, light, and mood in Goya’s original. Pablo Picasso also did this in “Las Meninas,” his series of paintings from 1957. He made a comprehensive analysis, reinterpreting and recreating “Las Meninas” by Diego Velázquez. The studio can be a lonely and isolating place, sometimes you need some ghosts or imaginary friends to come in to inspire you. I have revisited my love of Agnes Martin’s work and also have “spent time” with both Picasso and Gerhard Richter

Gallery MAR: What currently excites you most in the studio?

Shawna Moore: Usually when I finish a big group of work there are a couple paintings I feel very strongly about. One of those is “Drop Out” which has some really dramatic color combinations. I’m also excited about the piece “We Float,” which instead of feeling like you are out in the middle of the water, feels to me like you are approaching the edge of something, land or a boat, a whale or a surfboard. I want to explore both of those aspects as I move into the late summer and fall.


We would like to extend our gratitude to Shawna Moore for sharing her experience and insights. Find her latest body of work from her “Light + Space” exhibition in the gallery and online.

Written by Veronica Vale