– Story by David Wylie Photography by Darren Hull
Most artists don’t paint upside down while suspended in the air.
Amanda Shatzko blends her unique Cirque du Soleil training with formal art training — and it can be a tricky balancing act.
“You’ve got to learn perspective very fast, because you’re right-side up one second, then you’re upside down the other second,” she said.
“Before, I used to go up with huge multiple canvases and have a hanging bucket with paint, but then I’d start crashing into it and learned it’s a bad idea to have a bucket of paint moving around.”
The North Okanagan artist is always looking for ways to improve her craft and push her artistic boundaries, even if it means making mistakes along the way.
“People should not be afraid to try things and fail at them,” she said. “I really like trying to weave different things together and see how they work. Visual arts, performing arts, sports and now politics. As humans, we are multifaceted.”
How did Amanda end up painting upside down at corporate events?
While in Vancouver, she was recruited by the choreographers of Cirque du Soleil to do acrobatics. She was performing at corporate events as a circus performer and then doing live painting on the ground — sometimes at the same event.
“Vancouver is a small world,” she said, adding the same people book different events.
She started to wonder what her painting would look like if she put two and two together. That kind of thinking seems to permeate her work, with her prominent body of paintings being a blend of portrait and landscape fading into each other.
Art was a formative part of her life at an early age.
“When I was little I used to sit in front of the TV with my dad on weekends watching cartoons, and I would do colouring books and I would draw with crayons. I was a little bit meticulous with colouring in the lines and shading,” she said.
From there she branched out into school art projects that were eventually exhibited in the Vernon Public Art Gallery through a program for elementary and high school kids.
Having her knack acknowledged at an early age was encouraging, and Amanda started taking art lessons while in elementary school. She became involved in performing arts and gymnastics at that time, becoming a top-ranked Canadian gymnast and training for 30 hours a week. Hoping to make the Olympics, she travelled across the country and into the US to compete, something that inspired a life-long love of travel.
“But I always found ways to incorporate art,” she said.
Coming to terms with not realizing her Olympic dreams in gymnastics, Amanda instead opted for art school.
She studied at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, where she tried out things like welding and sculpture. One of her takeaways was that artists have a responsibility to reflect and comment on current times.
Her art did eventually lead to an Olympic performance. When she was graduating from art school in 2010, there was a call for artists to paint live in Whistler at the Vancouver Olympic Games.
“Coming from a sports background, I thought ‘I can do that.’ I understand athletes’ bodies, and I was painting a lot of athletes at the time,” she said.
She was accepted as an artist and had a studio in the Olympic Village, at one point painting fellow Vernon resident and Olympic medal-winning Paralympic athlete Josh Dueck.
Among her artistic experiments have been upcycling and sustainability.
“With so much stuff that’s going on in the world, we need to get creative and innovative to solve the problems. People need to not be afraid to be creative and to be curious,” she said.
“The biggest thing people get afraid of when they get older is continuing to explore. They get out of this whole exploratory phase. I think that’s unfortunate because there are so many innovations that need to get created.”
Amanda works with students in local schools to create upcyling pieces, including a project at Vernon Secondary School where she helped kids encase everyday items in resin — a combination lock, keyboard, stamps, a fork, musical instruments and scissors.
“These were objects that were going to be discarded at the end of the year,” she said.
Her political involvement is a recent development.
About a year ago, Amanda was elected as a director for the Regional District of North Okanagan, where she is currently vice chair. At 33 years old, Amanda is now among a growing number of millennials who are adding their opinions and ideas to the table.
“Art can be used as a form of diplomacy,” she said. “The arts taught me there’s more than one way to get to an end goal.”
She had been sitting on boards for arts groups, and then became involved in the referendum for a new multi-purpose cultural facility in downtown Vernon, which voters approved in 2018. Those she’d worked with on that campaign suggested she run for office.
Amanda is now in the process of creating a new body of work on the theme of cultural diplomacy.
“What if the whole world could be a canvas? What would you create?” she asked.
Visit her online at amandashatzko.com.