Shannon Lawlor is an artist based in Nanton, Alberta. She painted the artwork for the 2017 Calgary Stampede poster.
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I’m from Manitoba originally and moved to Alberta in the 80s. I always wanted to live in the west, so my life evolved through being involved in the equine and agriculture industry. I was involved in that workforce until about 11 years ago, when I switched careers completely and became a full time equine and western artist.
Can you tell us about your career change?
It was an evolution. I was getting very tired and broke down, physically, and decided I needed a career change. I just did it. I adapt well to change. I welcomed the change of pace. It was a struggle in the beginning—the starving artists thing set in immediately—but I persevered through those years and now I get to sit here with you today.
What is your primary interest as an artist?
I desperately wanted to be a western artist. As I was trying to evolve into that, I kept coming back to more intimate pictures of horses and the detail of fine portraiture. I still very much embrace the western lifestyle in my artwork, but I’ve primarily become an equine artist.
What is special to you about horses and the west?
Well, it’s how I grew up. Even in the prairie provinces I’ve never not been around horses. It’s everything I breathe and believe in.
What’s it like being a working artist in southern Alberta?
It’s a gentle lifestyle. It’s a quiet community that I live in and for me it lends itself to the space that I need to be able to create. Inspiration is out my backdoor—we’re surrounded by agriculture and farming communities.
How did it feel to be chosen to the do the artwork for the 2017 poster?
It’s one of the biggest highlights of my career. It took a lifetime to get to this point and have my work recognized enough to be chosen to create the Stampede poster. I’m absolutely honoured and I’m very grateful.
Tell us about your inspiration behind the artwork.
The inspiration for this piece goes back to the western heritage of the Calgary Stampede. David Sibbald and I had several meetings to talk about his vision for the poster – he wanted it to represent from his western lifestyle standpoint and from mine as an artist. This poster needed to embrace the past, the present and the future of the Calgary Stampede. When you look at it, there’s so much to see and there’s so much going on. The gathering of material and the research that went into the piece was exponential.
Tell us more about the research.
I had a lot of help from people behind the scenes at the Stampede. I researched with the Glenbow Museum, going through lots of photographs, gathering material from previous artists and images that inspire me.
Can you tell us about the stories in the piece?
The OH Ranch is subtly near the bottom of the poster. There are more than 150 brands around the outside of the painting—including the brands of the Big Four, past presidents as well as significant ranches from Alberta communities.
The team of heavy horses that I chose as the focal point, represent the power of the horses that not only built our community and the Calgary Stampede, that built our country. And they are working together. And that’s one of Stampede’s taglines: We’re Greatest Together. Those horses represent the power and the strength of the Calgary Stampede, its past, present and future.
This particular team of horses is a heavyweight pulling team that has competed in the Calgary Stampede. These Belgian geldings broke and still hold the record for heavyweight pulling.
Any challenges about this particular piece?
Absolutely. It’s done in a mixed media – acrylic and graphite—which always presents challenges. Trying to create the piece like an old western poster from 100 years ago, that was very challenging for me. And to let go artistically and let it be what it was going to become.
One of my goals as an artist is to keep the viewer engaged in any piece that I create. I feel that the poster artwork will promote conversation between people. It’s the type of image that every time you look at it, you’ll find something different.