“If Frank Zappa was a mother of invention, then Shirley Elias is the mistress of self-reinvention.”

Posted on September 25, 2016

By Morley Walker, Winnipeg Free Press

If Frank Zappa was a mother of invention, then Shirley Elias is the mistress of self-reinvention.

The Winnipeg performer and arts administrator has tried on many hats in the course of her creative life.

The latest is a painter’s beret, as she prepares for her first solo exhibition as a commercial artist.

“I totally do this because I love it,” says Elias, 45, a former classical pianist and current executive director of the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Art.

“I want people to take the same enjoyment out of it that I get. I’m not looking to be the next name in the art textbooks.”

More than 25 of Elias’s Picasso-like abstracts will be displayed Thursday through Saturday at the Alexus Studio/Gallery, 45-166 Meadowood Drive, just south of St. Vital Shopping Centre.

They range from $500 to $3,500. But about half cannot be had for any price, because they have been already sold.

“I do most of my work on commission,” she says. “That’s the way I want to keep it.”

Though she is not formally trained as an artist, Elias has been painting since she was a child in Winkler. Her family owns and operates the Triple E Canada motor home and recreational vehicle empire.

It’s no surprise that Elias likes to incorporate musical themes into her paintings. Her first cousin is the opera singer Phillip Ens, and she spent much of her 20s and 30s as a classical pianist.

In 1999, Elias moved to Halifax to manage the prestigious Debut Atlantic classical music series.

She returned in 2004 to take a job in artistic administration with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. She then moved to the Manitoba Arts Council for a brief stint before taking the top conservatory job last August.

Her wide experience has given her an interesting perspective on the differences between performing and painting.

“As a pianist, I wasn’t the creator, I was the interpreter,” she says. “I commissioned a lot of work to perform. Now people commission me.”

Elias’s show, Carpe Diem, will be open to public viewing 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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