Erasure series is Shawn Huckins‘ (b.1984) newest collection of distinctive paintings taking on the appropriation of the 18th century American portraiture through the emerging artist’s edging imagery. Underlying the cultural references of the nowadays dominant internet-based language, the artist simulates photoshop techniques and is framing the distinguished and renowned American ancestors that appear in his hand painted artworks as if they were starring in advertisements or online social media posts. Being keen on a digitally friendly narrative and creative lexicon, Huckins’ previous painting series were also subtitled with social media slang words and symbols, such as lolololol, ROFLMAO, #huh, so, now wut?.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
Although his work is not digitally generated, the artist manages to manipulate the visitor’s gaze with the digital erasures underscoring the characteristic gray-and-white checkboards, while deleting parts of his artwork and establishing it as his new recurrent motif on canvas.
The artist’s body of work sums up the celebrated emblems of the American past rendered in a contemporary pop culture juxtaposing the allegorical stimulus of the painted surface with the seemingly traces of erasure on canvas as an abstract expression of form, shape or even speech. For example, in Me, Myself, And Hypocrisy, 2018, irregular lines of painted erasures interrupt the glorious representation of George Washington portrait. Therefore, through an evident attitude to remove or obliterate such an established great past, Huckins draws inspiration on sarcasm and idiosyncrasies about his country’s past, present and future. People’s frivolousness may lead to forget the history and amplify the ephemeral essence of the present, which eventually undermines the wisdom of the past. Coping with the photo editing eraser tool effects, Huckins desires to point out a provocative manifestation about the modern socio-political situation in the United States. In the Erasure series, he highlights the fact that his new work “deals with the fragility of legacy and his response to the current US administration’s policies and ethics surrounding a divisive country”.
The artist creates particular patterns by painting asymmetrical forms based on the visual effects of the erasure, which remarkably contribute to an elevated state of the painting outcome. Huckins’ contrasting artistry invites the viewer to have a look at something classic in a new light furthering the idea of appropriation and pop-art as dynamic forces of creative expression. Principally in his arrangements, he seeks to avoid concentrations on romanticising his compositions; by withholding to depict an unrealistic fashion on his canvases, the artist puts a greater emphasis on the conceptual innovation over the figurative visualisations. The deterioration of visual and verbal language in Ed Ruscha’s oeuvre is reminiscent in the artistic framework of Huckins’ art emphasising the unusual perspective on ordinary aspects and motifs within the consumerist culture.
Born in Laconia, New Hampshire, US, Shawn Huckins lives and works in Denver, Colorado. He graduated from Keene State College in 2006. His work has been widely exhibited across the United States. His new solo show, including eighteen paintings titled Erasures, which replicate well known paintings from the White House Art Collection in Fool’s Gold exhibition, takes places at Modernism gallery‘s new art space in San Francisco until September 8, 2018.
Art Verge: Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Shawn Huckins: My most recent work deals with the fragility of legacy. Within the series, I replicate paintings within the White House Art Collection and superimpose ‘erasure’ marks over top to symbolize the removal of our country’s heritage. It’s my response to our current administration’s toxic and divisive government. The early stages for my paintings begin on the computer where I compose the image digitally. Once I’m satisfied with the composition, I will draw the image onto canvas, followed by masking the ‘erasure’ marks to retain the whiteness of the canvas. I will do an underpainting for the portrait, followed by subsequent layers of paint until finalization. Once the painting is complete, I will remove the tape covering the erasure marks, followed by drafting out the size of the gray and white erasure grid. The little squares are taped off, filled in with light neutral gray paint (as seen in Photoshop), and finally the last square is painted and tape removed.
AV: How would you define your work in few words (ideally in 3 words)?
SH: Old meets new.
AV: Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
SH: Amy Bennett, Bernard Frize, Christian Rex van Minnen, Bertrand Fournier….and of course the American classics, John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, George Caleb Bingham.
AV: Creating a new painting can be a solitary process. If this applies to you, when you concentrate on a new artwork does it affect your social life at all?
SH: Not at all. I’m very structured in my practice and I’m in the studio from 9-4 everyday. My mind turns on to be creative during this time period. As much as I love doing what I do, I also enjoy setting time for my hobbies and social life. The only time my work would effect my social life is when I have to meet approaching deadlines. Then I’ll work nights and weekends as well.
AV: How do you know when an artwork is finished?
SH: When the last piece of tape is peeled off.
AV: What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?
SH: My studio is located at my private residence which makes my morning commute fantastic. It’s clean, organized, has tall ceilings and windows, and faces west, so lots of sunshine in the afternoon. I’m a morning person, so light pouring in from the east facing room down the hall gives me plenty of working light.
AV: Which exhibition did you visit last?
SH: Ashley Eliza Williams at Goodwin Fine Art, Denver.
AV: What do you hope audiences will take from your work?
SH: Shit! These are actually paintings and not digital prints.
AV: What does your mum think about your art?
SH: Very supportive and proud, even though she may not understand my body of work.
AV: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
SH: I will always choose a sunrise over a sunset.
AV: Is the glass half empty or half full?
SH: Depends on what liquid’s inside.
AV: Which are your plans for the near future?
SH: For the near future, I’ll debuting my new Erasure series at Modernism Gallery in San Francisco in July 2018. Further down the road, I’ll be working on a solo exhibition debuting in April 2019 here in Denver. Little further, I’ll be working on my first international solo exhibition in France.
© Images courtesy of the artist