ShenShen210 is known for her soulful portraits. Throughout her career she has elevated aerosol art and broken boundaries, bringing the street art medium to charity mural projects, art galleries, and the Olympics. While staying true to her roots in the graffiti art world, Shen’s signature style has taken her to many places where she didn’t imagine she would go. Now living in Spring, Texas with her husband and three of their eight children, the artist continues to garner gallery exhibitions across the country. Many early artists from the street art movement have risen in the art world. Shen has come a long way from her concrete canvases and is currently working on two commissioned portraits of Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine.
Pop music had a profound impact on Shen’s early life. She was an avid listener of music as a teen, citing Prince’s Purple Rain as her favorite album at the time, she would later begin to create portraits of iconic musicians and actors. Today, celebrities often purchase their own portraits or request commissions from Shen. William H. Macy, Emilio Estevez, and Don Cheadle are just a few ShenShen210 collectors.
Portraiture transcends physical representation for Shen. The creative process begins by studying the subject’s work – reading interviews, watching their films, or listening to their music. She wants to comprehend the inner workings of the person in relation to what they have produced. She says, “I need to look deeper into the window of that person’s soul so that I understand where they are coming from.” Shen approaches each face with empathy, wanting to understand the person beneath the recognition – a quality that often rests on the surface. The genuine spirit in her portraits has led to commissions outside of the Hollywood bubble. In 2018 Shen painted Dan Crenshaw, U.S. House of Representative live at his election party.
A unique path brought Shen to her unique calling. She was drawn to the world of graffiti art in 1986. She met Picasso and Sno in technical school, kids who “turned words into abstract designs” and she was intrigued. Raised as Jodi Goldman, ShenShen210 would become her tag, her pseudonym, in the street art world. Eventually, she became a part of two ‘crews,’ essentially artist collectives, who painted all around the Bay Area. The crews Together with Style (TWS) and Together We Create (TWC) offered her community and friendly competition, often at the Psycho City parking lot walls near Van Ness. Several members would go on to be well known – such as Crayone, Vogue, and Wisper. Shen was the only female in a boy’s world, but that never held her back.
Often, the crews would go out at night and paint their aerosol creations in the dark. Shen calls this experience the “best education in art. We couldn’t see colors or hues, only values.” Value is one of the fundamentals of traditional art education, where you learn to paint and draw effectively in a grayscale. In near darkness, Shen and the crew could barely see any color, only rely on their imagination as they painted with each can of spray paint. They always came back the next day to critique their work and learn from their mistakes. Shen painted under bridges where she affectionately “beautified the bums houses” in San Jose. “I wanted to display work that was beneficial and adding to the environment,” she says, “not defacing property.” Today, she still feels a reverence for street art.
From the late 1980’s to the early 1990’s Shen would apprentice with Sun Bear and Trompe L’oeil Master John Pugh. Her work was documented by photographer James Prigoff who authored the street art tome Spraycan Art(1987) that has sold over 250,000 copies to date. By 1998 Shen was a contributing writer and workshop instructor for Airbrush Action Magazine. During this year she would also be invited to paint live at the Sausalito Art Festival and design swimsuits for the USA Olympic synchronized swimming team. The biggest break came with an exhibition at Gallery 54 in Soho, New York. At the opening reception Shen realized that she had risen to what was then the highest point in her career, but something was missing. The artist had faced many struggles throughout her life. Pursuing accolades was her attempt to try to heal deep personal wounds. “When I got my big moment [in New York], it was empty. I had put all of my hope on it,” she recalls. “I had finally come to the end of myself and that’s when my real life began.” There, in the Gallery 54 bathroom, Shen knelt on the floor and prayed, expressing the true desires of her heart to Jesus. Shortly after, Shen found a church and a mentor. She began rebuilding herself, this time with Christ instead of the praise critics and clients.
Shen created The Love Series in 1998, artwork meditating on God’s love and humanity’s place in that bigger picture. One of the pieces that stands out to her is ‘Forgiveness.’ The painting began as a sketch drawn during a church service one Sunday, a piece that the artist claims is “one of my very best.” A bright red heart is bold, but also dripping as if it’s bleeding. A cacophony of energy and darkness swirl around the canvas. Shen says, “it speaks of forgiveness as a journey that is tumultuous at times, but also rewarding at times.” Not a path taken by the faint of heart, but by the survivor, the repeated shapes represent the need to forgive again and again to free one’s own soul.
Of The Love Series, Shen says that these paintings speak of “the pain that is inevitable when you truly attempt to love with real agape love” but also the excitement and depth of joy. She cites one painting, ‘God is Love,’ as displaying infatuation, excitement for the future, and a desire to honor God in the treatment of others. Shen feels that this series is the most representative of her purpose as an artist and human being – to live abundantly by focusing on God’s blessings. Since, she has worked on countless commissioned murals, portraits, and painted live at major events across the country. She states, “Today, I am living the creative, family, and Christ centered life that I’ve always wanted to live.”
Shen’s art is currently on view at the Imago Dei exhibition at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Spring, Texas. Her next show opens at Telluride Gallery in Colorado on September 14th, followed by a solo exhibition at Lone Star College in Tomball, Texas. The opening reception will be held on October 15th from 6-8pm.
Learn more about Shen and view her work at shenstudio.com
Artwork (in order of appearance):
“God is Love”
“Jimi Hendrix (Purple Haze)”
Portrait of Shen
“David Bowie Shhh”
“Audrey Hepburn Beautiful Poise”