Artist Spotlight: Shawn Conn & Windows Into Darkness


I had a chance to sit down with our current feature artist, Shawn Conn, for a chat about his current exhibition and to learn a little bit more about him as an artist. “Windows Into Darkness: The Art of Shawn Conn” is showing at Whitman Works Company until the end of April.

Two series of new art works are on display for this exhibition: a series of portraits and a new set of abstracts. Shawn took some time out from painting to talk over these new sets and give us some insight to how they came about.

Derek Darling (DD): This is Shawn Conn, whose new show, "Windows into Darkness", recently opened at Whitman Works Company. Shawn, tell us about the exhibit’s theme and what inspired you about it.

Shawn Conn (SC): The portraits in the exhibit are about how everybody has a facade they put out to society - a persona - whether it is real or imagined. And underneath that is a point where it all falls apart – the darkness where everybody is really themselves... with their fears and insecurities. That's what I'm trying to capture in all of these pieces.

DD: You have a mix of both iconic and seemingly "regular" people. Why did you choose to paint these people?

SC: Many times we put celebrities up on a pedestal. We tend to forget that they’re real people. The people I chose for this were essentially flawed. Such as Elvis with his drug addiction, or Marilyn with her drug addiction, and all of the issues with JFK. The flaws humanize them and bring them down to our level. People sometimes don't realize how much they identify with the celebrities that they put in this high place.

DD: You kind of have a second series of abstract work in this exhibit. Can you tell us a little bit more about those pieces?

SC: My interest in abstract goes back to my college days when my mentor was Judd Williams - an amazing painter in his own right. At that time I was painting wildlife and “tight” subjects. Judd introduced me to abstract and pushed me to open my eyes. For me, it started with texture. Sometimes my abstracts were about nothing more than texture. In the process of painting and constructing, I sometimes feel almost like a god, building things that occasionally look like worlds and land masses. And underneath it, there's a certain amount of motion. I listen to music when I paint or create or create anything – I listen to everything from classical to heavy metal to weird psychedelic stuff. It can influence how I approach a painting, and the end result.


DD: What do you see yourself working on next?

SC: I have several series planned. I want to explore icons from my childhood that shaped me into the creative person I am today, such as Luke Cage (comic book hero), The Lone Ranger (classic TV show), and Godzilla (movie monster). I want to memorialize them by putting them in this exalted place where they are more than icons, with an almost god-like status.

DD: What was your path to becoming an artist?

SC: From a very young age, I knew art was what I wanted to do. I decided I was going to become an artist in first grade. We had a project where everyone was assigned a species of bird to draw – mine was a robin. The girl who sat next to me had to draw a bluebird, and she was having a hard time.  She asked me to help her since I finished my drawing early. When I was done, she gave me a kiss on the cheek and I thought, yeah I’m gonna do this.

DD: What type of work or style inspires you as an artist?

SC: I’m very drawn to pop art and abstract impressionism. Impressionism, like Monet, and post-impressionism like Van Gogh.  I love the loose brush strokes that they have in their paintings. When you’re close to these works, they look like nothing more than a bunch of colors thrown together, but when you stand further back you see that these brush strokes create a scene.  That’s what I try to do in my paintings – have an upclose view that is different from what you see from further away. I love pop art because of its satirical bent on consumerism, especially American consumerism. It’s something we constantly struggle with in America – this desire to be good and to do good things, but destroying everything we touch because of our need to have things. Pop art really makes a statement about that. In this show, with all the celebrity portraits, I’m trying to bring us back down from the pedestal, asking is this what’s really important to our society?

DD: What’s one bit of advice you’d give an aspiring artist?

SC: Become an accountant – the pay’s better. No!  Don’t give up. It may take years, but you’ll find your voice and you’ll find your audience. Create something every day, and don’t ever stop creating, because that’s who you are. Many people think that being an artist is a profession, but it’s really a part of you.  You can’t turn it off any more than you can turn off part of your personality.

Shawn Conn’s “Windows Into Darkness” continues at the Whitman Works Company gallery through the month of April . Inquiries about the exhibition or a specific work can be sent to

What's Special About Art Exhibitions

Art by Gretchen Lee Carletta on exhibition at Whitman Works Company in March 2019.

Art by Gretchen Lee Carletta on exhibition at Whitman Works Company in March 2019.

Imagine your favorite band only played each album in public for a month. Then the songs were sold off to individuals never to be heard again except by those lucky few. To a large degree, this is how the art market operates. It is also why exhibitions are such a special and rarified affair. For a short period of time, we get to see a whole body or series of works by a particular artist. The chance of seeing those works together again is almost zero. This is especially important considering that the artists themselves often create these units of work as a thought process. We are lucky that Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain" wasn't chopped up and sold off to collectors like we do with art. I can't even think of "In the Wee Small Hours" by Frank Sinatra as separate songs..

Art Exhibitions are your unique chance to see something special...
“Purple Haze” by Shawn Conn whose Exhibition, “Windows Into Darkness”, opens on April 6th.

“Purple Haze” by Shawn Conn whose Exhibition, “Windows Into Darkness”, opens on April 6th.

For the most part, artwork resides in either the hands of artists or their patrons. If you have bought original artwork, you are a Patron! Art shown in museums or institutional galleries are those special, rarified works that have been donated or purchased for their importance. Even works in the possession of these locations are largely in storage. We the public only see a tiny fraction of art holdings in the world. Art Exhibitions are your unique chance to see something special: a crafted body of expression by a particular artist or group.

Obviously, every exhibition won't be your cup of tea. Just like not everyone loves Nickelback, some artists and styles are going to reflect your tastes better than others. When the time comes that you see something that piques your interest, don't think twice. RSVP for that exhibition. Buy Tickets. Put it on your calendar. Get a sitter. And go experience that once in a lifetime moment.

Art is an Investment - In Yourself

So much of what is written about the art world revolves around the idea that art is an investment. Almost all of those articles and posts talk about the work itself. How will we know if it will gain in value? How to determine if an art piece is "important"?

The real value of art is the place it has in your life. Your environment is an important part of what helps create your reality. Art is a powerful tool in helping mold your mindset and focus in key places in your life. Children and teenagers know this better than most!

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Maybe you haven't thought of it this way, but think back to a time when you put posters on your wall. You created an aesthetic that motivated you. Maybe it was escape to a sci-fi world. Maybe those posters reflected a passion for music. Maybe it was all about rebellion! Art brings out your imagination and your passion.

But you are an adult now... maybe it is time to upgrade your tastes from that U2 poster and Union Jack flag that used to hang in your room. Hopefully we can give our kids the kind of expressive freedom that we got during those times.

Art is a catalyst for the kind of energy that you will bring to the rest of your life.

Instead, invest in art that creates the mental space you need for each part of your day. Spending some time thinking about how to optimize your space can have a huge impact. Art is a catalyst for the kind of energy that you will bring to the rest of your life. Original art work has the potential for an even greater impact in your life. When you can physically see the craftsmanship that goes into a spectacular work of art, it is naturally uplifting. It makes you want to reach for your own stars...

Art by Renee Mendler Arts

Art by Renee Mendler Arts

Why Original Art?

Sometimes art just takes you to a special place…

Sometimes art just takes you to a special place…

The answer to the question of why to purchase original art doesn’t often seem straightforward. It’s a lot of money and commitment to hang something original on the wall. There is an indelible energy to original art that can’t be readily transferred in a re-creation or a print. But in the end, the answer of why to purchase a piece of art is very clear: it speaks to you.

I know that this has happened to you before. It may not have been an original piece of art. It may have been a piece of music that made you want to dance. It might have been a novel that completely changed your mind. You may have been simply touched by a photograph in the newspaper. You cut it out and hung it to your office bulletin board or added it to your playlist.

Original art is an amplified experience. It will take that connection and make it part of your habitat. It has been imbued with the artist’s expression of nuance and feeling that is not available in a facsimile or print. In the best cases, photos or prints will completely understate a piece. In the worst cases, they will change them completely.

I have experienced this effect hundreds of times by now. Artists endeavor to show me an iPad rendition of their portfolio as they look for gallery representation. Occasionally you can tease out a detail or two to see some skill. Mostly the art looks flat and blended. The colors are muted and inconsequential. The photography of original artwork is a game of attrition. As a print buyer, you are getting a far lesser version of the original, in the best of cases. For some incredible works, it is still worth it.

Find that piece that speaks to you. It will make your whole life richer.