about my practice
In my interdisciplinary practice, I explore personal narratives of grief and healing through our psychosomatic relationship to the natural world. My world narrowed after my mother’s cancer diagnosis in 2014 as I became her caregiver. After her death at fifty-six years old, I struggled to connect to myself, others, and the larger world. I slowly recognized that centering my immense grief in my art was my path towards healing. In 2019 I created my first artwork examining grief, “Louise: 200 portraits of my mother (penitentes)”. In this installation of intimate immensity, family photographs covered in white paint cascade down a white wall. Barely visible through the paint, portraits of my mother are revealed and obscured as if fading into memory. Creating this work allowed me to transform the gravity of my grief, clarifying the role of my artistic practice in healing.
My artwork focalizes the land as an extension of the body and a locus for healing. My creative process begins with discovering internal landscapes revealed in waterways and the woods as the earth embodies experience. In my “Understory” series, I draw the moments where a dead tree leans on a neighbor, forever altering their growth while nurturing new life. In personal and public artmaking, I explore unique media to uncover the notion of nature-as-self and to open space for vulnerability.
As I seek to ameliorate the widening gulf between our bodies, the earth, and each other, the present moment is uniquely consequential. Over the past year, we have faced personal and collective loss as so many have lost loved ones to COVID-19. This pain is layered with the distress of our dying world and the trauma of systemic racism. Grief is a collective emotion, and I believe my work has a unique resonance in this particular moment.
SHEILA NOVAK is an interdisciplinary artist and arts administrator living in Boston, MA. Currently, Sheila serves as the Public Art Program Manager for the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy where she has curated, designed and managed the creation of new public artwork for Boston. Sheila has been working in the the nonprofit arts sector intersecting creative practice with public art, creative placekeeping and cultural equity since 2013.
Prior to working for The Greenway, Sheila worked on placemaking and public art projects in Minneapolis, Minnesota, including Northern Spark, Art Shanty Projects and the John Biggers Seed Project. In 2018 Sheila was awarded the New England Fellowship with National Arts Strategies shortly after arriving in Boston from Minneapolis. Sheila has served as the Artist in Residence at the Urbano Project (2020), Hennepin County Medical Center (2015-2017), as well as an Artist in Residence in Ecology, Spirituality and Community at Holden Village (2014). Sheila received her B.A. in Studio Art from St. Olaf College (2012)
For inquiries regarding purchasing of artwork, commissions, or public art consulting please email: SheilaNovakStudios@gmail.com