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There’s something haunting, yet hopeful, about Shelly Denning’s mural “Monarch.”

There’s a group of deer; the doe hovering over its fawn; the buck standing nearby. Both the mother’s and father’s ears are perked up, showing they are on the alert for any danger that may come from man’s crumbling, abandoned structure near where they are grazing. Through gaps in the walls you can see green fields and cloudy blue skies. On the buck’s antlers is a monarch butterfly that’s recently left its cocoon.

That sanguine feeling is exactly what Denning is looking for.

“The building is abandoned, or after man doesn’t exist. But in my mind, whatever has happened, nature is continuing to thrive and do better without us,” Denning said. “The monarch is a sign of regeneration, rebirth, renewal. It’s a warning, but it’s hopeful. If we start taking care of ourselves we can live with nature, but if we don’t, it will go on without us.”

Denning, an Arlington native who now lives in Denton, said her artistic style has evolved over the years. Always drawn to being an artist – her homework papers as a kid often contained more doodles than actual work – Denning has worked as a bartender, an actress and a makeup artist.   

While her early work tended to be darker and more fantastic, Denning said she’s now, as a full-time artist, creating artwork that is more realistic and with a political statement. (The medicine wheel painted on one wall is an homage to Native Americans, as is the ‘574’  scribbled on one wall for the number of current federally-recognized tribes in the United States.)

Denning, who painted the mural with help of her son, Jack Pinder, said the monarch butterfly was added after she discovered a chrysalis on the structure. She changed her design, moving the stag to allow the butterfly to develop. She added the adult butterfly to her mural.

 “My piece is more about the harm humans have done to the planet and how animals will go on living without us long after we’ve killed ourselves off,” Denning said.

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