Arts Visual Arts

Cover Artist: Shirley Bavonese

Coming Home. Shirley Bavonese, artist

By Gina Malone

Nature acts as an essential muse to many an artist, and Shirley Bavonese is no exception. “I seek her beauty and paint her with reverence,” Bavonese says. “There is no limitation to my inspiration. She is my guide.”

Growing up in Michigan, Bavonese was much younger than her sisters and so spent a lot of time alone, many of those hours in creative pursuits. “I began drawing as early as second grade,” she says. “I was especially interested in portraits.” By high school, she had fully embraced portraiture, choosing as subjects rock stars of the time. “I loved the Allman Brothers and Leon Russell,” she says. “My boyfriend at the time was able to get Greg Allman to sign the portrait I made.”

Lipstick Kisses. Shirley Bavonese, artist

Her desire to create was innate, she adds, without any one person encouraging her to be an artist. When her father suggested commercial art as a career, she shied away from the idea. “I knew intuitively going in that direction would spoil my creative juice,” she says. “I could not see myself creating on demand, drawing things that had no meaning to me.”

A college job as a window merchandise designer did excite her, however. “I worked for a women’s retail store, Winkleman’s, which advanced me to their junior division,” she says. “There, I won awards in the field and traveled to New York for fashion week. The job gave me full license to create anything I wanted in the windows. My favorite was a zoo installation where all the animals were placed outside the cages and the people visiting were caged—a total, fun role reversal.”

After college, she worked for a time as an elementary school teacher, becoming certified in Special Education. “In my teaching jobs, I used art to enhance most subjects,” she says. “The children were able to have fun and learn at the same time.” From there, she decided to earn a Master’s in Social Work and trained to become a psychotherapist. With the demands on her time in setting up a private practice, she put aside her art. She and her husband, a psychologist, opened a clinic, The Relationship Institute. “We divided our skills,” she says, “and I became responsible for the design of the offices. I made sure to use bright, soothing colors. Beige was not an option. We had iris purple and sage green walls.”

Mysterious. Shirley Bavonese, artist

She found that raising their three children afforded ample opportunity to return to the creativity that had fed her soul at a young age. She produced plays for children and designed the sets. “This was all inspired by Earth Day,” she says. “I felt very compelled to inspire all to take part in protecting our lovely planet.” This experience led to her coordinating a yearly event and parade with the Sierra Club called the Green Cruise in which up to 500 people would participate.

With her children off to college, Bavonese began painting again, turning her living room into a studio. She also displayed her paintings at the group practice she and her husband had established. “Clients expressed that the landscapes, abstracts and flowers calmed them and helped them with their treatment,” she says. “Therapists would share with me often how the clients were positively soothed by my paintings. I took art classes and chose to be coached by artists that I especially admire and resonate with. I did not want to pursue more education.”

When she and her husband retired, they came to Asheville for the mountains and the supportive arts community. It was during the early days of COVID-19 when they fully moved into their home in West Asheville, and Bavonese set up a studio. “I continued to paint in the studio during COVID,” she says. “I was especially interested in how many of the wild animals were being restored as people secluded.

Animals and the open spaces were on the mend in a relatively short period of time. What a wonderful example of what it really means to live mutually, respectfully, with nature, and what the result looks like. I painted an abstract titled Metamorphosis based on that concept.”

Bavonese feels blessed to be at a time in her life when she can be in the studio and paint daily. “The art space is bathed in natural light, which makes a huge difference,” she says. “I am surrounded by incredible, talented artists here at Curve where we all support each other.”

Float. Shirley Bavonese, artist

Among others who have mentored and inspired her is fellow artist Peter Roux, who finds himself drawn to Bavonese’s work in a number of ways. “Her palette leans towards a real celebration of color,” he says, “embracing intensity, high-keyed values, warmth and unexpected relationships. Her paint application retains the energy, daring and gesture of her arms and eyes. There is a symphony at play in Shirley’s canvases—some notes harmonious, other relationships oddly dissonant. Yet, in the end, they each converge into a visual emotional story that carries me as a viewer. I go places I have not yet quite been.”

The energy that she sees and experiences in the natural world—with flowers blooming in gardens all around her studio—is what Bavonese strives for in her work. “There is no static landscape or flower,” she says. “Even my abstracts embrace the movement and explosion of color. I always paint standing up and I move all the time. I dance and I paint.”

Shirley Bavonese’s studio is located at Curve Studios, 5 River Arts Place, in the River Arts District. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and by appointment. Learn more at and on Instagram @shirleybavonese. Through mid-month, her work is also being shown at anandahairstudio, 22 Broadway Street, Asheville.

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