Biography of Shelli Renee Joye

Brief Biography

Fascinated by science and somewhat of a nerd, I built my own HAM radio station by the age of 14 and during my last year of high school won the Northern VA Science Fair for building a working linear ion accelerator. Entering Rice University on a physics scholarship, I found myself most interested in electromagnetic and plasma phenomena and graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering, hoping to go on for a PhD. Shortly before graduation, however my worldview was forever changed by an experience I had in the remote countryside of central Texas, and thereafter I became increasingly interested in the physics of consciousness. For several years I worked with John Lilly in his interspecies communication work, and under his guidance built my own isolation chamber for contemplative exploration. In New York I began painting large abstract canvases while exploring consciousness with various teachers from India and Tibet.

I left New York for San Francisco and entered graduate school at the California Institute of Integral Studies after hearing of its unique methodology seeking an integration of science, classical mysticism, and consciousness studies. After receiving an MA in in Indian Philosophy (my MA thesis was titled “The History, Philosophy, and Practice of Tantra in India”), I fell in love with and married a student who was studying Buddhism at the Institute. Shortly after graduating we moved to Saudi Arabia where for the next 19 years we raised our son and daughter. Upon returning, I entered a doctoral program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness. In 2012 I completed my graduate course work and relocated to the far northeastern mountains of California in Shasta County, near Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park, where I wrote my dissertation, titled:


Detailed Biography

I was born a double Gemini in Port O’Spain, Trinidad, the Isle of Hummingbirds. We soon made a series of moves: to Panama, Florida, New York and then finally to Northwood in the suburbs of London.

When I was six I won an international coloring contest for children. One had to use crayons to color a daily black and white cartoon published in the London Times. I had my photo in the paper!

My first abstract painting was completed in 1965 in San Antonio, Texas.  During my undergraduate days I studied mathematics, physics and English literature, but spent all of my social time with my art major roommates and their friends.  After graduating from UT-Austin in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science degree, I relocated to New York, taking a loft in SOHO and continued painting.  

Later, through a course in organic chemistry, I became fascinated with paper chromatography: the way various molecules in a solution, as they dried, moved to different heights.  Where there was overlap and the colors mixed on paper there were an amazing range of rainbow hues.  I found later I could use gravity as my paintbrush to replicate this process.

Deeply inspired by both Kandinsky’s ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ and the idea of synasthesia, I worked to express musical abstractions using color, form and texture on canvas.  Having studied music when young, I began experimenting with a Arp Synthesizer at the New School.   I was intrigued and steered by the work of Terry Riley and John Cage and the ideas of Herman Hesse, however my deepest influences were that of Kandinsky, Klee, Pollock, and Georgia O’Keefe. 

 I continued experimenting with the interactivity of paints of different colors and viscosities, how they would mix along their interface edges   I concurrently I spent many hours at MOMA, the Met, and private galleries increasing this understanding of interactions between disparate paints, colors, and textures.   

Attempting to concurrently turn my loft space into a gallery while working full time in the World Trade Center and continuing to paint, I depleted my finances, necessitating relocating to Texas.   A year later, I returned to New York and, taking a loft on East 6th Street and Avenue ‘A’, I took a job with the Port Authority as a lighting designer during the day, resuming my art at night and weekends.

I rented a small loft on Avenue A and East 6th Street in Manhattan, and filled up almost the entire floor or my main room with canvases I worked on. I eventually moved to a larger loft a block away where I painted most of my 8 ft x 10 ft canvases.  I also worked full time as a lighting engineer for the port authority, and became very knowledgeable of the physics of light, of lighting fixtures and the architectural/biological aspects of light and color and how artificial light interacts with materials. I also experimented with a wide variety of chemicals and how they interacted with acrylic paint and liquids and how heat lamps and gravity affected various painting techniques. I became increasingly interested in texture and color and archetypal shapes. I also studied a great deal in the areas of Asian philosophy and religions as well as Jungian psychology. I obtained a full set of Jung’s Collected Works, and I had workshops with practicing experts in Asian and western meditation, including Allan Watts, Oscar Ichazo of Arica in Chile, John Lilly, Timothy Leary, Trungpa Rinpoche, and Krishnamurti, all of whom visited New York frequently in those days.

In 1975 I left New York and moved to San Francisco for full time graduate study of  Indian Philosophy, to learn more deeply the comparative philosophies underlying meditation and yoga, to make my life more authentic I moved to San Francisco and was able to live for three years as a full time student on my savings, studying Sanskrit for three years, gaining deeper experiences in meditation, but I continued to paint on a much smaller scale, small canvases. (See “Solaris” and “Archimedes”, completed in 1976).

I received an M.A. in Indian Philosophy in 1977, having written and published my Thesis: “The History, Philosophy and Practice of Tantra in India”, inspired by a lifelong interest in yoga, meditation and art.  During my graduate studies, I married a student from Mexico.  In 1980 we moved to Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia with our two children, Jason age 2 and Alyssa age 3 months.

I continued painting in Saudi Arabia, though at first found it difficult to obtain paint and more especially canvas. Living in the desert was a purifying experience. I grew much closer to the spirit and became very active in an underground Franciscan community, and began studying and practicing contemplation in earnest, while exploring the creation of fractal paintings using software that I wrote myself in the C language.  I was able to visit India several times where I studied with Fr. Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine Camaldolese priest from England who had established a retreat center at Shantivanam.    In 1992 I managed to acquire a large piece of land with medieval ruins in the quiet countryside near Assisi, Italy, on which stands a 600 year old church ruins and a stone tower which I renovated. I hope someday to live there and paint in the quiet natural setting of Umbria.

In 2006 I began researching the techniques and materials used by traditional Iconographers.  Pursuing this, I participated in an iconographer’s tour of Russia in 2007 and was able to study as an apprentice in workshops with traditional Iconographer Nikita Andrejev through the Prosopon School, working with traditional Russian iconographic materials (Egg Tempera, raw pigments, gold leaf), gaining the technique to successfully use these materials , and subsequently completed several lyrical abstractions influenced by this exposure..

I am fascinated by the intense spirituality underlying both the traditional approach to Russian Icons, as well as my thirty years of experience in working with color, form and texture in abstract spiritual “flow” paintings.  The question remains how to integrate the two approaches, or how might traditional iconography inform my approach to lyrical abstractions and vice/versa?