What it means to be an Artist

Me in Elementary School plus a sample of my earliest work on the back wall

Me in Elementary School plus a sample of my earliest work on the back wall

My love affair with art dates back to when I was a little child. This photo was taken in Vienna in 1965 and shows one of my earliest  creations on the back wall.   I was always fascinated by the human form and in particular faces.

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I was born in 1960 in Berlin, Germany into a family that had the travel bug. We moved a great deal within Europe and at one point settled in Tehran, Iran, where I attended several years of high school. I remember using every blank spot in books and workbooks to doodle. Needless to say, I did not lavish much attention to the teachings of my rather frustrated teachers. My Persian instructor, Mrs. Tehrani, would always confiscate my workbooks, since those provided the most space for drawings. At the end of the school year, she called me up front and rather than giving me my workbook back, gave me a lecture about paying more attention in class. Yet in the same breath she also asked if she could keep the book, because she really liked my work. I consider her my first fan!

I spend a lot of time drawing, after all art seemed to be the only constant in my life. Naturally as I discovered that others liked my depiction of the people I encountered, a little seed was planted in my mind that perhaps one day I could become an artist. Art was pretty much the only subject that I seemed to enjoy and receive the highest grades in! Yet it was not meant to be until much later in life.

The Letter by Enzie Shahmiri

In 1978 the revolution broke out in Iran and it became dangerous to stay in a foreign school. With one suitcase in hand, I was sent alone to Berlin, Germany to live with my grandma. A new school system that did not accept my transfer credits, an outdated believe that there is no future for artists, accompanied by a stern reminder that it was time to put childish dreams aside and pursue s.th important like German Literature, soon put an end to my visions of a bohemian live style in an artists colony.

When my knight in shining armor followed me to Berlin and asked for my hand, we fled the confines of a bureaucratic system for America! Still very young, it was time to pick a college and of course this was my chance to make my dream come true.This is when I made the biggest mistake of my life. Before registering, I decided to visit an empty art class! At age 19, very inexperienced and easily intimidated, I was so blown away by the work I saw, that I became scared and fled. It never dawned on me that the class I had visited might have been an advanced class!

Eventually, the thought of being an artist did become just a childish dream and I got serious working in sales, running my own business. I concentrated on my family and raised two beautiful children, who I made sure had every opportunity to explore their artistic sides. Then in 1999, came the day when I could no longer ignore my true calling and enrolled in art classes at a local college.

I was consumed by a desire to learn and took every art class I could get my hands on. I even allowed myself to dream about transferring to a well known academy of art. But again, the time was not right and I settled through teaching myself what the college could not provide.

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"Feast and Famine", a school project, was my way to address the injustices of the world. While some of us have more than we could possible need, others are starving. These type of differences in people's standard of living are the driving force behind my desire to make a difference through art. 

Sudanese Girl Orig. Oil Painting by Enzie Shahmiri

Never quite satisfied with the act of painting, I learned of ways to include symbolism to allow my paintings to push beyond the aesthetic and touch on some deeper meaning. To this day, I try to donate at least one painting a year to raise funds for various causes.

As I was experimenting with different art styles I also needed to find a direction for my career.

Illustration?

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Advertising?

or explored my inner feelings more often, as a Surrealist like Dali?

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Someone once asked me, why I still have some of my early works hanging on the walls of my home. My response was that it is a wonderful reminder of how far I have come in learning what it means to be dedicated to ones calling and establishing a career as an artist. Finding ones voice as an artist is not easy. Often outside influences can be discouraging or just utterly confusing. So while in school I explored my options.

College taught me the fundamentals, but it soon became clear that I needed to find the right mentor to study portraiture in a classical, realism style, which I so much admired.

This was the most important move in my artistic education. I searched and found a mentor in an award winning portrait artist, by the name of Mr. Marvin Mattelson, who taught at the Art Student's League in New York. As a mom and wife packing my suitcase to move to the other side of the country was not a feasible  option, but taking two week workshops, spread apart was doable. These intense workshops, under the right tutelage, soon taught me the technical skills to learn how to paint realistic flesh tones, instilled discipline and proper work habits. Through dedication and hard work I learned what it meant to be an artist!

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Am I done? At the pinnacle of my career? Of course not, I just trekked through the valley and 'am looking at that huge mountain in front, that still needs to get conquered! Being an artist is a wonderful road to self discovery. You struggle with emotional highs and lows, but in the process you learn who you really are and what being an artist means to you personally. As goals are set and met, you watch as you slowly built your career. Nothing is more rewarding than when peers start to recognize your work for it's technical accomplishments and when your work starts to actually catch the attention of jurors.

My work has won awards, has been in galleries and is in homes in the USA, Europe and the Middle East. Yet, for me the greatest joy is when my work evokes a sudden emotional outburst by one of my clients. This type of response is in it's purest form and the highest compliment I can possibly hope for.

I hope you enjoyed my insight into what it means to be an artist. Please join me on this wonderful road of discovery by allowing me to share my love for my craft through creating a personalized painting for you!

Click to view my Professional Bio - Comments on past commissions can be read here

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