Lynnette at work in her studio.

by Len Lear

Sometimes I am asked how I find the many local people I write about. There are so many talented musicians, authors, artists, dancers, actors, etc. in the geographical area we cover that I could not possibly know more than a small percentage of them personally. Fortunately for me, however, there are people I will call “talent scouts” who bring to my attention interesting, highly skilled people I previously knew nothing about.

For example, Mt. Airy resident Gloria Rohlfs, who previously told me about twin singing sisters in Mt. Airy who made up one of my favorite stories last year, recently contacted me about Lynnette Shelley,  “a professional artist you might find interesting.” That turned out to be an understatement.

Lynnette, 45, from Delaware originally, is also one of the most remarkable animal painters I have ever come across. And her paintings just happen to be currently on display at Borrelli’s Chestnut Hill Gallery, One E. Gravers Lane (at Germantown Avenue), which represents her.

A journalism major and art minor at the University of Delaware, Lynnette graduated in 1996. She came to Philly in 1999 to take a job as editor of Parents Express, owned by Montgomery Newspapers, then moved to a trade magazine and then to the Metro newspaper, which she left in 2007. She lived in Mt. Airy until 2010, when she moved to Ambler.

“I always had cats and as a kid, an iguana,” she told us. “I always liked animals and always liked to draw them. Also flowers and plants. I also like to paint artworks incorporating endangered or extinct animals and unusual animals to bring awareness to what we as humans are doing to our planet, as well as to explore all the varieties of life around us.”

Having a passion for wildlife, patterns and archetypes, Shelley fuses these influences into her artworks. Her highly detailed and complex compositions are created using a sophisticated process developed from a buildup of multiple layers incorporating techniques in both drawing and painting, from crosshatching to dry brushing to ink wash and freehand drawing.

“I have been doing art my whole life,” she said last week, “but when I was young, it never occurred to me to pursue it as a career because I never knew anyone who did that. My dad was an engineer, and my mom was a housewife. Very middle class. I do mostly mixed media, ink and acrylic, multiple layers. I work on a wood panel, not canvas. I do a hybrid of painting and drawing. I use lot of water because it produces cool, colorful depth. Once dry, I sketch in chalk, then acrylic paint, then ink pen for fine line details. Several layers. I just did the largest piece I ever did, four feet by four feet; it took one month.”

Like so many other artists, Lynnette has been victimized by the coronavirus pandemic. “I had a solo show for a few days, but then I had to take everything down. I tried virtual shows, but it did not work for me. There were too many bugs. In August I will have a Rehoboth Beach show that I was in twice before. Last year there was one of my best shows ever, but this year it will be virtual. I belong to two art groups online, and many have cancelled shows up till the end of the year. My next in-person event is a scheduled studio tour in September in Chester County. I was in it eight times before, and it has normally been good for me, but who knows it if will even be held this year? I usually have shows scheduled one year in advance, but obviously, that is now impossible.”

Shelley’s strongest artistic influenes have been the works of Gustav Klimt, Van Gogh, William Blake, Frida Kahlo, Marc Chagall, Henri Rousseau and Edvard Munch, among others. Her animal artworks have been displayed nationally as well as regionally at museums, art galleries and other venues.  

In addition to her fine art pursuits, Shelley is also co-founder of The Red Masque, an original dark art rock/progressive rock band she has been writing for and performing in since 2001. She is also the vocalist for Green Cathedral, a contemporary art rock band. They released their debut album in 2017. Of course, both bands had to cancel shows in May and June.

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