[Q&A] This artist is reimagining our favorite rock, hip-hop and soul musicians—at après

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[Q&A] This artist is reimagining our favorite rock, hip-hop and soul musicians—at après

Back in April, FREESKIER hosted the Auction for Action to raise money for frontline medical workers who were battling the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had an outpouring of support from brands around the outdoor world who wanted to contribute to the cause but, interestingly enough, some of our most unique auction items came from one Winter Park-based artist.

Shannon Foley Henn reached out to see if she could donate some items from her “Après Ski” series of paintings of famous musicians in ski goggles. We were thrilled to include them and they were some of the first items to be snatched up in the fundraiser. After seeing her work, we thought we’d dive a little deeper, so we touched base with Henn to find out more about the “Après Ski” series and what inspired it, along with the rest of her art.

With a series called “Apres Ski” we have to assume you’re a skier yourself. How long have you been sliding into ski boots? 

I like to pretend I am a good skier. I grew up learning to ski back East at places in the Poconos like Camelback and Elk Mountain. When I moved to Colorado, I tried my hand at snowboarding but I’m accident-prone; I’ve broken my back wakeboarding, my wrists snowboarding, my ribs doing Irish jigs on bars and, most recently, I succumbed to the dreaded “skier’s thumb” in Winter Park. The latest injury forced me to put down my paintbrush for a year, which has made me gun-shy to get back on the slopes. My newest winter activity is cross-country skiing, which I’m loving more than I would have imagined.

Where are you from and how did you end up in Colorado? 

I grew up outside Philadelphia, went to school at Boston College. After a brief stint in San Francisco, I took a job in the safari industry in Kenya. When I was done with that, I moved back to the States and ended up Denver for six months in 2015 to help my brother-in-law open a bar. I’ve called Colorado home ever since.

What drew you to the Winter Park area? 

My [now] husband was in a cycling series in Winter Park and we started exploring the area after his races. I joked that if we ever got married, I would want to get married in East Africa or Winter Park; I come from a big family so getting everyone to Kenya was pretty much out of the question. We got married and, shortly thereafter, relocated to East Africa for work. We assumed we would live in East Africa for a long time and decided that rental income [from a property in Colorado] could sustain us for a while. We bought a place in Winter Park, went up to get it ready to rent and never left. Literally, we never left. We sold our house in Denver and moved up to Winter Park full-time. It took us a year to decide what our contribution to the community would be and how we would make a living in a ski town. We decided to open the one-and-only art gallery in town. 

Where did the name of your gallery, Uptripping, come from?

We were searching for a word that united our two passions—traveling and leaving the world a better place than when you found it. “Uptripping” was a word that meant, to us, to travel and give back; to visit a place in the world and elevate your experience by doing something good or becoming a better person because of that travel. 

When I started to paint again in 2015, we were coming down from some big life changes. I had not painted in nearly 20 years and I was not sure how people would react to my art. Subconsciously, I hid behind the brand Uptripping in order to dip my toe back into my artistic side without having to put my whole self into becoming an artist. It’s only been in the past two years that I am embracing my art as a part of who I am and my life story. Uptripping is, in a way, a word that embodies my life and my husband’s life. It’s become a verb for us as well as a brand—take something and Uptrip that shit!

How would you describe your artistic style?

I would say I am a pop artist at heart. I grew up obsessed with the paintings of Warhol and Lichtenstein. I recently found sketchbooks from my childhood and was intrigued to see that my style of poppy colors and stripes started in my early teenage years. 

The Après Ski series really nails the icons across a number of musical genres. How do you choose the subjects? Are these your favorite musicians?  

I spent many years running a rock and roll cancer foundation called Love Hope Strength. I spent a lot of time at concerts and on the road with musicians. When I was young, I used to love sketching the faces of famous people I would see in magazines. When I was forced to put down my paintbrush due to my last ski injury, I had all the time in the world to imagine the first painting I would do once I was recovered from my surgeries. I had this image of rockstars partying on the slopes and wanted to see what it would be like to put ski goggles on a famous face. 

Would they still look like a rockstar? Could you tell who someone was behind their goggles? Would you be able to capture the vibe of a musician through just simple color hiding behind a “mask”? It was a fun challenge in and I wanted to try just one famous face and see if it would turn out. I started with Hendrix and Bowie for no other reason than I love their vibes. The rest just evolved; I like [painting] unique faces. Recent commissions have taking me into all kinds of genres from hip-hop to jam bands.

If you had to guess, what do you think would the après beverage of choice for each of the musicians you’ve featured in the series?

Funny question. I would love to have a drink with any one of them!

Bowie – Gin and tonic, Hendrix – Rum and coke, Winehouse – White wine with a shot of Jame-o on side, Garcia – Just a joint, Petty – Cigarette, Prince – Glass of Bordeaux in a tiny ornate wine glass, Freddie – Shot of Jaeger, Dolly – Bellini, Tina – Guava, Strummer – Shot of Tully, Eminem – Red Bull, Eazy-E – A 40oz, Snoop – Gin and Juice, of course, Marvin – Manhattan, Elton – Martini, straight up, Vedder – Jack and coke.

When we first were chatting it was during the heart of the COVID-19 shutdown. Did the shutdown inspire any other new projects or increase your artistic output as a whole?

I’ve been painting my tail off. I had this vision when I opened Uptripping that I would paint in the art gallery. When you run a business, you barely have time to eat, let alone stop and paint. I feel like from the day we opened the gallery, I have not taken a breath. Quarantine gave me time to breathe and get back to what I love—I doubled the series since we went into quarantine. I’ve loved what the ability to focus solely on creating has done for my creative process. I now make time to paint, get outside and enjoy life in the mountains more. I owe that to quarantine. 

Do you have a favorite piece of work as of late? All-time favorite? 

Marvin Gaye is my new favorite. He was so handsome and had this gorgeous smile. I can’t believe the list of songs that came out of that man in his short time on Earth. He, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty are my top favorites.

How do you choose artists to showcase in your gallery? 

If it makes me smile, it will likely make others smile. I love finding an obscure painting somewhere and bringing back to Uptripping.

We were recently back in Africa after taking a big group on safari. We were walking down the maze-like alleys of Zanzibar and I saw this huge, colorful [painting of a] lion that we fell in love with. We told the shop owner we wanted to see more and he took us by the hand and ran us through the alleys to a tiny workshop. Sharifu, the artist, was sitting at a canvas surrounded by really cool pieces. He was in his 20s and freaked out when we explained that we wanted to bring some of his paintings to a gallery in Colorado. It was the best day of our trip, to bring that kind of excitement to a young artist.

We want Uptripping to be a place with no rules or boundaries. My only goal was to make it a space that makes people smile. We wanted it to be a place of “whimsy.” If you’re a traveler, you may see things that trigger memories from places you have been. If you’re not a traveler, you will see things you have never seen before. As the only art gallery in town, we knew we needed to cater the the mountain home style but we decided we were going to infuse some color and creativity into it all.

One of our favorite artists lives in Florida and paints the most amazing ski paintings—but who would have thought?! And a photographer from the UK has the best photo of a moose we have ever seen; we are honored to be the only gallery in the States that sells his work. We also carry gorgeous wildlife paintings by a local woman whose art is shown in galleries across the country.

But the best part of being an artist and gallery-owner is knowing how important every sale is for an artist. [An artist’s] heart and soul goes onto a canvas. I once heard an artist asked how long it took to make her painting. She answered, “It took 40 years of my life to get to this moment on the canvas. All of my experiences in life led me to this image.”

When you reached out to FREESKIER about the auction you mentioned that fundraising has been a big part of your life. Can you tell us more about what foundations you’ve been involved with? 

In 2007, I was the Founding Director of a cancer foundation called Love Hope Strength. We came out of the gates by hosting a clinic and concert at Everest Base Camp. [Through that,] we purchased the country of Nepal its first radiation machine and mobile mammography machine. We then went on to register bone marrow donors at concerts all over the world and host concerts in crazy locations to fund cancer care in regions that needed support.

And that’s how I met my husband. He was his brother’s lifesaving bone marrow donor and a volunteer for the foundation. Our first date was Bonnaroo—I figured if we could survive that, we could survive anything! We then went on to start a new foundation called The Impact Plan, which we still have today. We moved to Tanzania for a short while to help with the funding of a children’s cancer center there; we have [also] raised a lot of money for elephant rescues in Kenya, water programs in Nepal and local charities in the Winter Park area.

What was it like to spend time with musicians through Love Hope Strength?

I’ve hiked mountains with musicians all over the world and toured with others while registering bone marrow donors. It’s an interesting thing to hike a mountain with a rockstar. One minute they are playing a guitar around a campfire like the incredible artist you have admired your whole life; the next they are huffing-and-puffing along the trail by your side just like any other ordinary person. It has been said that mountains are the ultimate equalizer: The mountain doesn’t care if you are a rock star or not. It’s going to kick your ass either way and the only way to the top is one foot in front of the other just like everyone else. 

The world has been facing some serious hardships over the past couple of months. As an artist and gallery owner, how have you been coping?

I’ve embraced it. I’ve learned that you can’t control what life throws at you but you can control how you respond to it. I know that the entire world is suffering now and I have the tools to get through it and I live in the most incredible mountain community on Earth. Like my family, we all have each other’s back. I am doing my best to stay positive and busy. The world, now more than ever, needs some happiness and I’m doing my little part to bring some joy to my little corner of the world through my art. 

Is the gallery open now if people want to visit?

From day one, we have been operating on an appointment basis. That way people can shop safely without having to interact with anyone else. It keeps our customers safe and keeps me safe in a primarily tourist community. 

Anything else to share with the FREESKIER readers? 

I would love to know who they want to see painted next!

To see the entire Après Ski Series and more of Henn’s work, visit shannonfoleyhenn.com or email [email protected] to make a make a gallery appointment.