SHIPMENTS MAY BE DELAYED DUE TO THE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF COVID-19.

INTERVIEW WITH SHAWN HUCKINS

A conversation on Communication, Humor, and the west west America

THE INTERVIEW WAS DONE ON

09 SEPTEMBER 2020

S.M
"Tell us about yourself."

S.H

"I’m a contemporary painter living in Denver, CO, and enjoy fiddling, baking, and gardening. I was born, raised, and educated in New Hampshire."

S.M
"Did you start painting at an early age?"

S.H

"I painted my first painting when I was nine years old. I was given my grandmother’s used oil painting set after she passed away and my first painting was of a barn and some trees. Up until that point, I only drew in my sketchbooks with colored pencils and pens, so I had no idea how to manipulate this new medium of oil paints. I remember how frustrated I was using oil paints and how sticky and difficult it was to use. And they took forever to dry! The only thing I enjoyed about the process was how pleasant the smell was, otherwise, I returned back to my sketchbooks and didn’t paint again seriously until college. I still have that first painting hanging in my dining room."

S.M
"What’s your studio like?"

S.H

"My studio is located in the third spare bedroom in my house. It’s a smaller space, but with vaulted ceilings and big windows, it makes it feel bigger than it is and has served me well for years. I like to keep my space relatively clutter-free since it rattles my brain to work in a mess. Eventually (next year hopefully), my partner and I will move back to New Hampshire, where we are going to build a house. I’m also looking forward to designing and building a detached studio on the property."

"Sometimes, you have to ignore everybody and trust your gut"

S.M
"That sounds very exciting. I guess you’re going to be busy as ever. What're your daily rituals/routines?"

S.H

"My schedule is incredibly regimented and boring. I start my day with an early morning run to wake me up and get me energized for the day. I’m in the studio by 730AM and painting by 8 AM. I usually like to play my fiddle before I start painting to get my fingers warmed up and put me a cheery mood. I like to be out of the studio by 4 PM, so I can enjoy my evening walks with my partner, but lately, I’ve been working nights and weekends. I’ve got two solo shows coming up and I’m a bit nervous about meeting the deadlines to ship dry paintings."

S.M
"Who inspires you? Or What inspires you?"

S.H

"I really enjoy looking at other people’s work on Instagram and seeing their process and hopefully learning a thing or two I can take into my studio. I try to be as informative as I can on my IG account and enjoy sharing my process, as well, since I know some people find it valuable. I also find violinists and fiddlers quite amazing on how they can make a wood box sing so beautifully. I’ve been playing for about six years and I’m slowly coming around to my own style and groove, but I love watching them play, so I can emulate them in my playing."

S.M
"Your work has this almost bipolar mix between the classic and the modern, something very unique. Where did this style come from? What's the story?"

S.H

"It all began as a happy accident. To make a long story short, in 2009, I was camping with my cousin and we began talking about my paintings. Up until that point, I never painted portraits because I was intimated by them. My cousin kindly pointed out that I was a skilled painter, but was too afraid to tackle portraits. To prove him wrong, when I returned to the studio a few days later, I started to practice portrait painting by replicating old, classical American portraits. One of my practice paintings fell beneath a piece of trace paper with the acronym ‘LOL’ on it and I found that juxtaposition fascinating. The imagery was discovered first and then the questions came later. In college, we had figure drawing classes, but I never took a figure painting class regrettably. I think I’ve come a long way with my portraits, but I find that I’m learning something new with each painting, even today."

"Figure It Out"

S.M
"Humor seems to play an important role in your exploration as an artist. Why were you particularly interested in this subject?"

S.H

"I’m attracted to comical or satire forms of art (books, television, etc.), so I naturally gravitate towards that in my own work. I’m a pretty emotionless guy and have a dark sense of humor, so I enjoy placing that part of my personality in my work."

S.M
"The meme-like quotes you paint over the classic paintings are youthful and playful, kind of mirroring the modern social media-oriented lifestyle. What sort of role do you think social media play in the art world?"

S.H

"Social media, if used properly, is a fantastic tool in discovering new artists and techniques across the entire globe. I’m fortunate to live in an age where I can discover tons and tons of amazing artists at the click of a button. Before the internet, artists had their ‘gang’ of artist friends and discovered new artists/work at museums and galleries. I don’t really have a gang of artists, so Instagram is a wonderful space to seek inspiration. I’ve also had numerous opportunities and sales from people viewing my social media. I haven’t had to send an unsolicited portfolio to galleries in over ten years since I’m fortunate enough to have galleries contact me via social media, or they saw my work shared on another electronic platform."

S.M
"Would you say that the advancement of technology has made us incapable of communicating and connecting with one another in a meaningful way?"

S.H

"To continue with the previous answer, social media is a great tool to discover new artists. But, I do believe social media and smartphone technologies are affecting the way we communicate person to person. I admire the way my grandparents used to talk with each other which seemed more genuine and authentic. Nowadays, it seems conversations are kept short since as our attention spans are lesser than those people who grew up without ‘smart’ technology. As I say in my artist statement: does how we communicate govern the value of what we communicate? We also seem to have a growing phobia of talking on the phone, as I think people prefer email or texting as apposed to telephone conversations because it avoids any potential conflict. It’s much easier to yell at someone over email than to their face or over the phone."

"Working Fucking Harder" (this is hung over my desk as a daily reminder)

S.M
"'The American Revolution Revolution' series seems to play on the idea of how our language has evolved according to the change in means of communication (i.e. Twitter, etc) Tell us more about this series."

S.H

"This was the first series debuting the happy accident of combining classical portraits with ‘Digi-speak.’ Our language has evolved or devolved depending on how you view it. Today, communication is easy and fast. You can send a message to someone in Germany in six seconds while a letter going to the next state could take weeks back at our nation’s birth. Those letters, although taking a very long time to be received, contained compassion and emotion, while it’s very hard to decipher the tone of a text message. Our Digi-language seems to have lost the emotion and connection as it was before the rise of technology. I never really thought of it until now, but I wonder if penmanship is decreasing as well? A majority of students now have tablets to work on, so using a pen and paper is becoming rarer. I learned cursive as a child, but I never had to use it in my adult life, except for my sloppy signature. It certainly isn’t to the level of the handwritten documents back in the day and even of my grandparent's cards and letters."

"Mix your own black" (mine is usually burnt umber and ultramarine, but with variations)

S.M
"You mentioned that "our attention spans are lesser than those people who grew up without ‘smart’ technology” and that the modern format of communication "have lost the emotion and connection”. Would you say that this was an inevitable drive of social evolution? Or more like a disability or a plague haunting mankind."

S.H

"I wouldn’t classify it as a disability, but rather as an unattended side effect of smart technology. I don’t think Steve Jobs was thinking about 'how can we make people less connected by making it easier to connect’ his main focus while designing the smartphone. It’s all an unfortunate consequence of smart technology that teenagers have lost the ability to talk with each other directly, or talk on the phone with ease. In my personal life, we try to limit ourselves on much time we spend with our phones. For example, we don’t bring them out at dinner or to restaurants, and we are off them by 8 PM, so we can relax and ease into bed. We are certainly reading more books now, which is fantastic."

S.M
"Your more recent works, 'Fool's Errand', especially the 'Mrs. Anne Fairchild Bowler' painting/installation is doing new things you haven't shown in the past. What was the inspiration behind this new series?"

S.H

"In this new series, I wanted to express that our country and government are not immune to destruction. With the Trump administration, COVID, and other horrible events going on, it seems that our American society is at a tipping point which must be corrected in order to retain our way of life. Life has already been dramatically changed because of COVID, so my goal by combining a failed society (Roman Empire) with American classical portraits is to show that our foundational roots are being corrupted and destroyed. A new experiment with this series was combing sculptural elements with a two-dimensional painting. It was fun to take a break from the texting work and create these sculptural installations for a new challenge. I’m releasing more paintings from this series for my solo at Stephanie Chefas Projects opening on October 17th."

S.M
"It's interesting that you’re playing with the political status of modern society in such a thoughtful yet subtle manner. When you say "our foundational roots are being corrupted and destroyed” what do you exactly mean? Purely in a historical sense?"

S.H

"When our constitution was drafted, I believe it was for the prosperity of American and its people. It was to rid of a monarchy/dictatorship and I genuinely think they crafted the document with the best intentions for a new nation’s growth. Yes, our country’s history is scared of horrible wars, slavery, unequal rights for women and people of color, but I think we are (or were) working towards a nation that works for ALL people. Nowadays, it’s hard to say we are working towards that goal as this current administration is so corrupt and it seems we are returning to a period where everyone is not seen as equals."

"Distance yourself from toxic people"

S.M
"2020 has been a pretty dark year, bush fire, COVID-19, the explosion in Beirut, police brutality, etc. What’s your experience so far?"

S.H

"I’ve been pretty lucky with all the darkness 2020 has brought so far. I work from home, so I’m not at risk of being in large groups and we take necessary precautions when we go out in public. The life of an artist is already pretty lonely, so the quarantine period was nothing new. I did have to cancel several trips to visit family, but it was all to keep everyone safe. The news is pretty depressing these days, so I tend to focus on things that bring me joy and comfort."

S.M
"Hope you and your family are safe and well. Since the COVID, the art world has been changing a lot, especially towards the online digital world. What's your view?"

S.H

"To be honest, I got burned out by viewing art online after about the first month. As I mentioned in my previous answers, viewing art online is a great tool to learn about an artist and their process, but after some time, I got tired of all the online group shows and Instagram live feeds. Digital galleries just lack something that going to a gallery gives you. Art is much better in person."

S.M
"If you could go back in time, what era would you like to explore?"

S.H

"Absolutely the American colonial era. My favorite subject in school was history and I loved learning about the colonists, red coats, militias, etc. I love the architecture and clothing of the period and it would be neat to meet some of the iconic persons from our American history….Paul Revere, Sam Adams…"

S.M
"I can see you living in that era, once again as a skilled painter. Moving on from the past, what do you see in the future? What do you think will happen to the world in the next few decades?"

S.H

"I was kind of hoping for flying cars by now, but seeing as they are not, I see more green technology becoming more prevalent. I hope that our factories and transportation methods are cleaner and our air and water are fresher. I’m also hopeful that there will be a movement to detach ourselves from our dependence on smartphones and people will be sick of the hype and return to saying hello to your neighbors or strangers."

S.M
"That would be nice. Tell us a random secret."

S.H

"I pooped my pants in second grade on the bus on the way back home from a field trip. I blamed the smell on the kid next to me."

"Sometimes, you have to ignore everybody and trust your gut"

"Figure It Out"

"Working Fucking Harder” (this is hung over my desk as a daily reminder)"

"Mix your own black” (mine is usually burnt umber and ultramarine, but with variations)"

"Distance yourself from toxic people"