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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.