Vermont Arts Council

The People’s Choice Award: Shannon Knight

43: Shannon Knight

Create a series of paintings exploring illness, disability, and identity

Shannon is a multimedia artist and freelance illustrator currently based in southern Vermont. She attended Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston, MA where she earned a BFA in Illustration. Shannon has been featured in Creative Quarterly and awarded by the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and 3 x 3 The Magazine of Contemporary Illustration. Some of her illustration clients include Postmates, Them, Exclaim!, The Stranger, The Lenny Letter, The Portland Mercury. She is passionate about plants, mushrooms, her foster rabbits, all things vintage and kitschy, and eating dessert every day.

Since 2019, severe and disabling chronic illness has had a major impact on Shannon’s career and life as an artist. These events have also impacted her paintings, which often explore themes of grief and melancholy, but also regrowth and regeneration.

Project description

I am planning a series of three paintings exploring my experiences with chronic illness, disability, and identity. I have struggled with chronic illness my entire life, but in 2019, when I was 27 years old, it became disabling. Still reeling from this new reality and struggling to adapt and continue to work, COVID-19 hit several months later, and my world became even smaller. I have always used my art practice to process my hardships and emotions and connect with my audience through these shared experiences, but from 2020 to the present, I have had to largely put my personal work aside and dedicate my limited energy to earning enough income to survive. I didn’t understand the grim realities faced by disabled people in the U.S. until I became disabled myself. I have a few goals for this series: to highlight the experiences of disabled and chronically ill people, particularly young women; to visualize the pain, grief, and isolation that come with these experiences; and to explore disabled identity (specifically for young women) in a capitalist and ableist society that treats disabled people as useless or burdensome.

My paintings will visualize the suffering of young women living with invisible illness, but also celebrate the strength and beauty of disabled bodies. I am planning a series of three stylized portraits, showing women of different shapes and sizes grappling with stylized or metaphorical depictions of illness. I want to visually represent some of the invisible symptoms that can cause so much grief and highlight the strength and tenacity of sufferers, who endure so much and whose experiences are marginalized or dismissed. Each painting will have a brief accompanying text that highlights a specific statistic or issue, shedding light on these issues or debunking common myths about disability. Like most of my work, these paintings will include stylized elements of the natural world, hyper-saturated colours, and pop surrealist elements.

Media Sample 1

Lilith. “This illustration, created for a feminist zine, depicts a 21st century personification of Lilith destroying the snake of patriarchy.”

Media Sample 2

The Night Ride. “This is the first piece in an ongoing series exploring a nocturnal fantasy world that awakens after dark, inspired by my struggles with insomnia.”

Media Sample 3

Kings and Queens. “This painting exhibits a lot of elements I want to bring to this series: stylized bodies, bright colours, and a maximalist design.”

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Acadia Klepeis August 23, 2023