MUNTHE ART MONDAY: SHEREEN TABET
Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do.
My name is Shereen. I'm an artist based in Hackney, East London, and I work from New River Studios in Harringay Warehouse District. My father is from Lebanon, and my mother's side is from Ireland, but I was brought up in Glasgow, Scotland, having moved from Beirut when I was 18 months old. I guess this origin story is relevant to my work, as my mostly self-taught practice involves creating abstract dreamscape paintings, often with recurring themes of connection to place, heritage, and identity. I depict locations and landscapes that I feel deeply connected to from my childhood experiences and travels. Lingering memories of old sayings, snippets of songs, and conversations sometimes make their way onto the canvas via hidden text and figures.
I have previously worked in a brain injury rehabilitation facility, and I'm currently also working as a speech and language therapist with children who have memory difficulties. I, therefore, have an interest in how our memory works and interprets past experiences, people, and spaces. My paintings reflect the nature of our memories - sometimes hazy, fragmented, interspersed with moments of clarity. At times they are joyful recollections; other times they evoke a sense of nostalgia and melancholy, of years gone by and relationships dissolved.
Can you name some other female (artist) that inspires you and explain why they do so?
I've been influenced by various artforms and creatives. When I first moved to London in 2009, I was involved in making music, and Bjork was always someone who stood out. You hear her voice and instantly know it’s her, so completely unique in every way! Melody Ehsani is another inspiration. She projects a sort of goddess energy. I love her messages of empowerment, spirituality, and her business brains! I also relate to the feeling of not having known exactly where you want to be until later in life, taking a few wrong turns until finding the right path.
In addition to these influences, I have a deep appreciation for the paintings and sculptures of the UK artist Melanie Berman. Her layering of paints and the pops of color in her abstract works are truly satisfying; they sometimes resemble abstracted landscapes or a unique kind of coded language.
I'm also a fan of the vibrant and intricately detailed paintings of the Australian artist Del Kathryn Barton. Her art explores the symbolic language of femininity and offers glimpses into a magical inner world. I purchased one of her prints in Sydney, it’s hung on my living room wall, and it still brings me joy every time I look at it nearly 10 years later.
I’d also like to mention the female artist Beryl Cook, who my mom is a fan of. I grew up seeing her work in the house, and there's no doubt that her lighthearted, comical scenes of everyday British life, featuring curvy, voluptuous characters, have influenced my work and my appreciation for paintings that uplift and brighten one's mood. There are so many talented female artists and gallery owners that I follow who are doing so well; it's hard to choose just one.
What would you like people to notice in your artwork?
When painting my dreamscape/memory capes, I aim to explore the balance between chaos and order found in nature. I achieve this by incorporating more deliberate shapes and heavy mark-making, using graphite, pastels, pens, and textured caulker in a controlled manner. These elements contrast with loose, fluid drippy inks, oils, and free-flowing brush strokes. I find joy in the entire sensory experience and experimentation involved in the painting process while striving to find harmony between these two forces within the work.
My hope is that the viewer would feel a connection to the painting and experience the calm and balance that I have endeavored to capture. It's an amazing feeling when a buyer from the other side of the planet reaches out because they can relate to an emotion or memory expressed through my art. I would say that I do aim to create uplifting and even 'beautiful' pieces of art that are accessible for people's homes as well as large gallery spaces. My goal is to add to the positive energy in a particular space and bring joy to those who encounter my work.
Could you explain more about how being a woman has affected your career?
My art practice has been a catalyst that has allowed me to delve deeper into my own femininity, my roots, and both sides of my cultural identity—things that, in my youth, I leaned away from. These themes now frequently appear in my work, and I've noticed that my paintings tend to resonate more with other women.
In the past, I was more drawn to what you might call a 'bloke core' aesthetic, and my interests and self-image aligned with that. I used to stay away from 'Barbie' pinks and anything I considered too delicate, fussy, or fluffy. Perhaps this was because I aimed to be perceived as stronger and more capable in the male-dominated industries of art and music that I was interested in during the early 2000s.
Now, as a woman, I've matured, embracing the softer, more feminine side of myself, and I see it as a form of strength. I found myself drawn towards more stereotypically feminine colors like pastels, experimenting with delicate mark-making as well as bold, textured brush strokes. I eventually embraced the color pink, and then the floodgates opened—everything started to take on a rosy tint for a while! It's been an interesting metamorphosis to observe, and it could swing back in the other direction when I feel it's time for a new phase. However, fully embracing and understanding all facets of oneself is essential for creating the most authentic work, pursuing a fulfilling career, and simply being a happier person in general.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a female artist?
I've always struggled with being more assertive, often being too agreeable and quick to say yes to please people. Although this might also be influenced by culture and personality, I think it comes more naturally to men, who have historically held more positions of power in various industries, including the art world. These are things I'm still working on, but I've realized that if you don't champion your own work, no one else will!
In the U.K., I believe that class and upbringing play a significant role in facing challenges and barriers to becoming a successful artist (though I acknowledge that I've already been fortunate in many ways, simply by being born in a safe and free country). Where I grew up, in the Southside of Glasgow, I didn't know any artists and didn't even consider it a viable career option. However, I must say that since delving deeper into my painting practice as an adult, I have met many supportive female artists who have encouraged me and my work. Building your own community and network may be more challenging if you weren't born into a family of artists and didn't have any connections to the art world, but it is possible and has been a fun and empowering part of my art journey.