art is the chance to explore what it means to be human
art, to Meghan Shimek, is the chance to explore what it means to be human: the good, the tough, the hopeful, the singularity. and the pieces she looms from her studio in the Oakland artist enclave of Jingletown reflect all of those complexities — shocking and soft, warm and complex. or, as she puts it, “the constant longing and search for comfort and the impossibility of truly finding it outside of yourself.” here’s how she does it (so beautifully, so movingly, and why.)
where do you live?
“i live in the Jingletown neighborhood in Oakland, California, with my son and one thousand cats. (OK, i have two, but a stray cat recently gave birth in my arms, so there are three adult cats and four kittens living with me.) i’ve lived here for over five years, but recently moved to a new studio. i love this little neighborhood because it is full of other artists and weird live / work spaces. it is also near Alameda and downtown Oakland, so i have access to the city and the beach less than ten minutes in either direction!”
what do you do — professionally, personally, passionately?
“i am a fiber artist. i make large scale wall hangings and sculptures mainly from wool, but i use other materials from time to time. i am also a single mother and i love baking, reading, cooking and spending time with my friends.” follow her on instagram @meghanshimek or check out her website here.
what path led you here?
“i began weaving when my son was about 18 months. i immediately had a deep passion for it and wanted to learn every technique i could. i began with rigid heddle weaving and playing around on the loom i had. then i moved to Arizona for a few months, and i was able to take Navajo weaving and floor loom weaving and, finally, tapestry weaving when i moved back to California. during that time i was hungry to learn all i could. in October 2014, my father passed away, and i went through a divorce immediately after. i wanted to lose myself in weaving, but also needed a way to move the grief through my body. i began working with the raw wool and creating the technique that i am known for now.
what inspires you?
“i am inspired by nature, architecture and emotions. i explore the uncomfortableness of life — the constant longing and search for comfort and the impossibility of truly finding it outside of yourself.”
how do you approach your work?
“my work is a conversation between my hands and the materials. i try to keep my ego out of it as much as possible. when i get too involved or too in my head, i tend to be less happy with my work. i trust that my hands know what to do. generally when I am working with clients, there is a discussion and usually reference to past work to get ideas for the custom work they want. when i work on creating new work, i meditate and visualize what i want to make.”
can you tell us about a piece that’s especially meaningful?
“there have been a few, but, at the end of 2019, i created an environment at Glass Rice gallery called Hibernal Sanctuary. it was an installation i had wanted to create for a long time. i turned the gallery into ice caves made of wool — it made you feel like you were in the beauty of an ice cave but in a soft, quiet, cozy wool environment. i created this space as an ode to my friends who helped me get through a really hard time in my life ,and made safe spaces for me and truly took care of me for months. this was my love letter to them for all they gave to me.”
any advice for aspiring artists?
“my go-to advice is to say yes to every opportunity until you know what to say no to. that being said — know your worth, stop giving away your time for free or selling your work for less than it is worth (that one i am still learning). create boundaries and stick to them.”
we are living in crazy — but important, for so many reasons — times. what is life like right now for you?
“it has been a very interesting year! 2020 was a huge year of adjustment and challenges, being a single parent and homeschooling was incredibly difficult to do while also trying to find moments to work and feel inspired. like many, i turned to substances to get through a lot. i woke up at the end of last year and decided to quit. i have now been sober for almost four months and it has been a wonderful decision. besides being more present with my son, i have found that i can be more present with friends and other things — like social justice issues — that i feel passionately about. it has taken awhile to find my footing with my work, and i have needed a lot of rest, but i feel so positive about the future in a way i never have in my life.”
what feels different about this year?
“this year feels more hopeful for me. the vaccine, getting sober, a cat giving birth in my arms, and feeling far more creative than i have in a long time (now i just have to apply that creativity), it all feels like something is shifting. i know we have a long way to go, and there is so much work to be done, but i feel like more people are starting to get it, that we have to break down systems that have been hurting marginalized communities, we have to fight climate change, we have to protect each other and really make changes. i think it can happen.”
what are you looking forward to most right now?
“my son being able to go back to school. this year has been so hard with kids not being able to spend much time with each other, struggling academically and just feeling so lonely. my son is so social, and this year has been tough to see. he has adapted well, but, as parents, we always want the best for our kids. i cannot wait for him to feel the joy of playing on a playground, and hugging his buddies again.”
what's the single best thing you bought, read, did, listened to, saw, cooked and /or dreamed up so far this year?
“the best book i read was The Midnight Library — it was wonderful to get lost in and the perfect book to read when i read it. i have been learning some Lithuanian cooking, and really learned how to make a good roasted chicken. as for dreaming... well, i have some things in the works!”
piece of époque on current rotation?
“the crop top is my favorite. i am wearing it constantly. it is truly a perfect piece of clothing to wear outside or underneath anything. i also love the notched pants, again so comfortable and flexible. i need clothes i can move in when i am working, and these two pieces are perfect. they look great when you have to be out in the world!”
three random items you can’t live without?
“Frankie (who is my bear), my phone, my bed.”
not-so guilty pleasure?
“candy and lots of naps.”
“my assistant Hannah recently told me this one, and i have been using it now, too: ‘Things in my life will flow to me easily and with abundance.’”
…and what else?
“i want people to be more gentle with themselves. especially right now. no one has everything figured out. it is OK to take time to rest, to say no to things that don't feel right, to cancel plans, and just live life more simply. the things you feel passionately about? dig into them. let them fill you up.”