6 minute read


Shawn Marshall USA

Painting is a meditative practice for me; an outlet to release intuitive energy and let go of preconceived notions or self-imposed rules about how I interpret and portray the world. Using palette knives and brushes, I strive to create depth, atmosphere, and escape on the canvas, often with a focus on the horizon. Details giving clues about season or specific location are not as important as the emphasis on the point where earth and sky meet. And though reaching that point is never physically possible, it suggests there is always hope.

Who or what has a lasting influence on your art practice?

My strongest influence has been growing up overseas in the 1970’s and living in Cyprus and Lebanon during their civil wars. Our family was forced to move twice because of war, once losing almost everything we owned in Nicosia, Cyprus. Eventually, we found peace in Munich, Germany.

Growing up in different countries ingrained my love for different cultures and enthusiasm for travel. The trauma of warfare and the multiple moves during my childhood, however, made me long for escape. Today I understand that my focus on painting the horizon is a manifestation of that desire, which continues to influence me. The horizon has been my enduring symbol of escape, beauty and hope.

As a professional artist, two groups have profoundly influenced my work. The Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet, and the Earthwork artists, primarily James Turrell, Nancy Holt, Michael Hizer, and Walter Di Maria.

Among the many great works of art and architecture I saw as a young woman, Claude Monet was a beacon. The tactile quality of his brushstrokes, the light, and his ability to capture the essence of a place through abstraction and simplification of its essential elements still mesmerize me. Monet, and his fellow Impressionists, introduced me to an interpretation and portrayal of the natural world which can be wholly mine.

Later in life, while studying architecture at Cornell University, I received a travel grant for a 3-week road trip to study the work of Earthworks artists Michael Hizer, Nancy Holt, Water De Maria, and James Turrell. During that trip, I had the great fortune to meet with James Turrell at his Start Axis project in New Mexico. Turrell’s passion, combined with the work of other Earthworks, for non-traditional artistic expression, inspires me still.

What is the most challenging of being an artist?

As with many artists, I always question my work and its relevance. In this sense, I am never fully “satisfied” and, honestly, I hope that continues. Almost 20 years of work as an architectural designer and my ongoing second career as a teacher are essential formative elements of my painting. Those experiences help me have the confidence to teach myself most of what I do now to create art.

I, like many artists, am regularly challenged by life’s often mundane, but essential, tasks and obligations. To avoid being derailed by such intrusions, I make it a priority to work in my studio every day, even if it’s just for an hour.

In your opinion what does art mean in contemporary culture?

Art both diverts from and reflects reality. Art’s meaning and purpose is different for artist and viewer because everyone approaches art with their own lens - their personal experiences and history. The way artists depict our ever-changing world will vary based on their perspective, but will always mirror and/or distort it. In this way, contemporary culture’s response to, and use for, art remains exciting and unpredictable.

How would you describe the art scene in your area?

Louisville, Kentucky has a thriving and rich arts scene. The Speed Art Museum, KMAC Art Museum, the very first 21c Hotel & Museum, the Frazier Art Museum, The Carnegie Center for Art & History, The Kentucky Center for Performing Arts, Actors Theatre, Stage One, The Louisville Orchestra are all representative of the local commitment to art.

We also have a strong and supportive art association, Louisville Visual Art, that brings our community together with local artists. In fact, LVA’s annual Open Studio Weekend happens soon in November.

Louisville has a wonderful array of art galleries, both privately run and artist owned. In fact, I had many rewarding experiences as a member and then director of Pyro Gallery, one of the city’s oldest artist-run galleries.

duPont Manual High School, a public magnet school in Louisville, has a nationally-recognized visual art magnet program. I teach visual art for a high school in nearby Oldham County, which is also very supportive of the arts. My high school employs 3 visual art teachers and offers classes in digital photography, graphic design, painting, drawing, sculpture, and architectural design.

What do you like/dislike about the art world?

I appreciate that the art world is more accessible for artists and collectors because of the internet. Getting your work out there is easier because artists can create their own websites, market themselves, and participate in online shows. Brick and mortar galleries are still important, however, and I will continue to exhibit in them. There is no substitute, after all, for seeing artwork in person and providing patrons an opportunity to meet artists. And being represented by a gallery still offers credibility to artists because it signals collectors that your work has value in the marketplace.

I still want to see more female artists’ work, however. An article written by artsy.net in 2017 (looking at Art Basel in Miami) showed that the mail-run galleries exhibited 75% male artists and 25% female artists. The female-run galleries didn’t fare much better, exhibiting 66% male artists and 34% female artists. The overall share being 72% male and 28% female. And in 2019, female artists represented just 2% of the market. (artnet. com). Let’s keep working to expand opportunities for female artists.

Name three artists you admire.

Cecily Brown - I first saw her work in person in 2005 in Oxford, England and was blown away. Her work is stirring and sensual and her brushwork is amazingly tactile.

Helen Frankenthaler - I get lost in her large-scale abstract expressionist paintings.

J.M.W. Turner - He was a master of painting landscapes that could evoke emotion. They weren’t just about representation - he makes the viewer feel both awe of nature and how fragile we are as human beings.

What are your future plans?

At present, I am focused on creating new work for 2 solo shows and a few group exhibitions next year in New York, Louisville, and Lexington. I’m producing a series of mixed-media collage landscapes by blending images such as food items and architecture with a painted landscape. By playing with scale, the work becomes somewhat surreal. I will also be working on a new series of large-scale landscape paintings for my upcoming solo shows.

I’m excited to be approaching a long-term goal of working full-time as an artist. For the last 30 years, I’ve been extremely grateful for my “day jobs” as an architect and teacher while working nights and weekends as an artist. I look forward to devoting all my work time to art because, when that finally happens, I’ll never “work” another day in my life!