the Shatner show 1
â€œWe were basically one and the same, although Jim [Kirk] was just about perfect, and, of course, I am perfect.â€?
the Shatner show
lisa brawn William Shatner oil on panel
a man who needs no introduction by glen dresser I should preface this by saying that neither Janine nor myself are any sort of authorities on William Shatner; we are Shatner enthusiasts, though it is easy to become such in a short period of time. The inspiration for this project came during a drive across Canada. It was somewhere in Northern Quebec, where Shatner attended rural summer camps and once received a literal ass-kicking for stealing carrots. We had been listening repeatedly to the Ben Folds and William Shatner collaborative album, Has Been, marveling at that blend of humility and bravado, resignation and anger. We were, at this time, discussing ideas for gallery shows for the upcoming season, and once we first hatched the idea of a show about William Shatner, it became impossible to let go of. No solo or small group show would be sufficient for capturing the range of this man; we needed a lot of artwork, and a lot of artists. And with such a collection of work, a book would be necessary to capture it all. In appropriate Shatnerian style, it quickly became a very ambitious undertaking. Fortunately, we had no shortage of illustrators eager to participate, many of whom had been impacted in their childhood by Kirk and later Shatner roles. “My first memory of television is of Star Trek,” says Russell Walks. “I thought Captain Kirk was about the coolest person ever. In my eyes, Kirk and Shatner were one and the same. I remember playing hooky from school so I could watch him on The $20,000 Pyramid. I think I was sort of vaguely disappointed that he wasn’t wearing a Star Trek uniform.” One didn’t need to see the original run of the episode to appreciate it. Jay Vollmar describes watching it in the 70s and 80s: “It had this strange outdated futuristic look to it that was fascinating.” Courtney Wotherspoon relates her father’s attachment to the show. “My father can fall asleep anywhere at any time. I would often find him in front of the couch, snoring away, while Kirk and the crew saved the planet unbeknownst to him. As I would have rather watched Saved by the Bell, I grabbed for the remote…It’s amazing the anger that could spew forth from this near-comatose man as soon as Shatner was no longer narrating his dreams. Without fail, I would apologize, begrudgingly leave it on Star Trek, and he would beam back into a peaceful slumber.” Toby Cougar recalls how, as a high school student, he participated in Canadian Mint contest to design special commemorative quarters; his submission was a Captain Kirk quarter. Regrettably, it didn’t win. “I blame my poor rendering skills,” Cougar says, “as the concept was rock solid.” His nationality was important for many of the Canadian artists participating in the show. “He was one of the earlier and most high-profile Canadian actors to really ‘make it’ in Hollywood,” James Lorincz says. His identity as a Canadian and Quebecer was a significant motif, in artwork from Karen and Patrick Andrews’ rendering of Shatner’s role in Canadian history, to the Francophone references of Scott Malin, Dushan Milic, and Darren Booth. As the artwork flowed in at the gallery, other recurring motifs emerged: horses, spoken word and bare-breasted females, some of them human. Many of the artists referenced Shatner’s Kirk, but others
referenced his time as TJ Hooker, or as his Emmy award winning portrayal of Denny Crane, on Boston Legal. Sean Kenney chose to portray Shatner as Crane, and point out that the character “has an irreverence and playfulness that embraces the public’s view of Shatner and yet simultaneously remains entirely fictional and non-Shatner.” His musical career proved to be a popular theme, and in particular his famed performance of Rocketman, depicted in the work of Rick Sealock, Scott Laumann, and Justin Reed, among others. The popularity of Shatner’s Rocketman performance has grown over time, in part because it has been referenced frequently in popular culture in everything from a music video by Beck to The Family Guy TV show. Shatner has been somewhat dismayed that the performance gained such a cult following: “It was in the nature of experimentation and fun. It would be like sketching something before you made a painting, and then throwing the sketch away. And someone saves your sketch and says, ‘Here’s your work of art.’ Well, that’s not my work of art, I was just figuring something out.” But perhaps part of the reason that Rocketman is more popular than ever today is that it captures a few different Shatner personas. In the performance, Shatner is joined by two doubles of himself, who each take a turn at singing a verse of the song, each with a different spin. The first (original) Shatner is straight-up, sincere; the second, conflicted and weak; and the third, joyful, energetic, and perhaps a bit high. And indeed for Shatner, his original role and persona was straight up and sincere. He’s had tragedy and conflict in his life. But when we see him today, always trying new projects and sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, it seems like he’s more than ever that third rocketman, the ‘rock it, man’. Part of our goal in involving such a large number of the artists in the show was to capture as many different Shatners as possible. There is only one William Shatner, of course. But this show is not only about him but also the greater Shatner, that near mythological figure who it seems could not be contained within any one body, and who can exist only through tremendous exposure through mass media and popular culture. As in the works of Mike Kerr, Joy Ang, Zach Trenholm, Brian Raszka and others, one Shatner is rarely enough. Brian Raszka believes that because Shatner seems to take an approach to acting that includes both talent and a well developed desire to have fun, he has performed in such a diverse range of roles that it makes him difficult to pin down. “In developing an image of him, there isn’t one role/character that can describe him in a visual way.” There are certain Shatners that seem to pop up again and again through the various pieces: some element of Blair Kelly’s arboreal Shatner exists in Zina Saunders’ touching portrait. The Shatner that comes through Jay Vollmar’s television set also signs autographs for Carolyn Fisher. I find myself looking at each submission to see which Shatner it contains; the romantic Shatner, the flawless Shatner, the Shatner of television. To that end, I’ll identify a few of the Shatners that I see over and over in these pieces.
Shatner the Adonis Shatner once quipped that Kirk was just slightly less perfect than himself, a reference to a veneer of perfection that has always been part of Shatner’s image. In one of Shatner’s early films—Incubus (1965), famed for its use of the invented language Esperanto—he plays a good and noble soldier on an island inhabited primarily by demons (one of whom looks a lot like Lane Brookshire’s goat, the film being one of Brookshire’s favourite Shatner performances) and corrupt men, many of whom have come seeking a well that cures all physical imperfections. It makes sense that Shatner’s character would be good, noble, and impervious to the lure of physical perfection, being so close to perfection already. As in the beatific works by Byron Eggenschwiler and Kyle Reed it would not be surprising to find the heavens parted for this man. Russell Walks’ portrait depicts a Shatner similarly perfect except perhaps for a bit of pride. It’s a small fault, one that can be forgiven. In so many roles, Shatner has been perfect but for the smallest flaws, and more often than not, that small flaw is pride. Not so perfect as to be inhuman, but just human enough to be perfect. In a recent episode of Boston Legal, he was asked what he thought God looked like. With a puff on his cigar, he replied that he always assumed that God looked like him. It’s not such an inconceivable thought.
Shatner the Youth We might think of Shatner the way we would a former child-actor; someone who was initially cast for their intrinsic innocence or goodness; then forced to grow up fast, lose that innocence, struggle against themselves, and finally re-emerge as something new. Yet he wasn’t a childactor; his first television role came at the age of twenty, and he wasn’t cast in the role that made him famous until his mid-thirties. And yet for many of us, those years on the Starship Enterprise are synonymous with our youth, and just as we trace our own lives back to an original era of innocence. One of his first major roles was in The Brothers Karamazov (1958), where he played the young, innocent, monastic Alexei. Alexei’s role is for the most part one of observer to the sordid lives of his brothers; there’s a common thread between Alexei Karamazov and James T. Kirk: they are almost childlike in their goodness, both feel that they are placed into the role of an observer (Alexei by his faith, Kirk by the Prime Directive), and yet neither can avoid becoming involved in the action. For children watching Star Trek, Kirk was such an easy figure for us to relate to. Of the artists contributing to the show, almost all of them confess to wanting to be Kirk. As in the works by Jesse Lef kowitz and Renata Liwska, his adventures were ours, as was his wonder and his goodness. We know details of his early life, growing up in Montreal. What lessons would a young William Shatner have learned, had he watched Star Trek when he was growing up? Would he not be richer for the experience? But we can’t feel too sorry for him: while the rest of us as children got to watch Kirk, Shatner got to live Kirk. He learned lessons from the show, as we did. And afterwards, he went through times when he pretended he didn’t like the show, that it was somehow beneath him. And then, as many of us did, realized that it wasn’t so silly and was actually pretty cool. So it seems fitting that Shatner is in his prime now, in perfect step with those who watched it as children.
Shatner the Broadcast Creation One of my own favourite Shatner moments is his appearance in Airplane II (1982). On a moon base, a young officer approaches what appears to be a communication device on a wall, activates it, and a grainy image of Shatner appears on the screen. The officer conveys to Shatner the dire situation of an incoming shuttle, and after discussing it for a moment and learning that their base has no tower (just a bridge), Shatner reaches out and pulls open what we had assumed was a control panel, but was actually a door, the grainy view screen merely a window. Shatner storms through. It’s a bizarre moment, and it captures a common theme with Shatner: the relationship to the medium that made him famous. Jay Vollmar’s television-cyborg Shatner blurs the lines between what lies behind the medium and what comes through. Sometimes, Shatner exists purely as a character on TV (as in Paul Hoppe’s fantastic TJ Hooker scene, well removed from any reality), and sometimes he exists as an impression of that medium (as in Ted McGrath’s first Shatner memory). As in that moment in Airplane II, Shatner can instantaneously go from being a character on screen to someone who transcends the medium.
Shatner the Manufactured Shatner’s time in the Star Trek universe predated the era of Borg, so the privilege of having his body melded with machine would be left to later Enterprise captains. But Shatner made up for it in his series of TekWar books, movies, and TV shows, in which the augmentation of the human body and mind with technology are a recurring theme. Several artists have chosen to show Shatner augmented by some other element. Melissa Verge’s Shatner puts on a comic face with Groucho Marx glasses and makeup. “When you examine his body of work and his life,” Verge says, “he becomes a man more than the ‘character’ we all know and love. He is a man not afraid to be silly or laugh at his own larger than life persona.” Andrea Lam’s Shatner uses a mask to a different effect, to create a larger than life version of himself. In Jackie Bagley’s Thespian, a pipe pumps up some quintessential Shatner element. Perhaps the most famous augmentation associated with Shatner is that of his hair, longrumoured to be not entirely natural, and distinctly unnatural in Lisa Brawn’s series. But whether it is natural or not seems to matter less than the fact that it always looks perfect. At times, Shatner is entirely of a different substance, such as in Sean Kennedy’s LEGO™ bust, or Bruce Worthington’s robotic Shatner. In both these instances, the Shatner is glossy and flawless; if he is made of something other than flesh and blood, then it must be some miracle material. Genevieve Simms has a similar thought: “If I had to compare Bill to an inanimate object and/or substance it would be polyester; an incredibly durable fabric that may not always be so fashionable but will continue to cycle itself through second hand stores and vintage shops to continuously be discovered by new admirers for all of eternity.” LEGO blocks have a similar eternal, nostalgic value and seem to be a good fit for him. And they can easily be reassembled into a lawyer or a space ship or a police car.
Shatner the Sex Icon One of Shatner’s most infamous roles was in the film Big Bad Mama (1976), where Angie Dickinson played the titular role as a sexy 1930s criminal and fugitive and Shatner played her lover. Dickinson is one of many Hollywood stars rumoured to have been seduced by Shatner. Another sex-icon moment for Shatner was when he acted as photographer in a shoot for Playboy, a legacy represented in Keith Shore’s work. Yet much of his sexual reputation owes something to Kirk’s exploits and adventures; even in the interview corresponding to the Playboy shoot, The interview went to the subject of Kirk’s exploits. In a conversation referenced in Joy Ang’s work, Shatner described the logistics of alien sex. Shatner and his lovely costar Nichelle Nichols performed the first televised interracial kiss, and he was incredulous that the networks found it objectionable. While that kiss seems tame now—a logical step that, if not made by Star Trek—would have been made by some other show soon after, it does reflect on Shatner as someone who, by his own admission, has no sexual taboos. And though he has a documented interest in long hair and nice legs, he places an even greater importance on magnetism: “If a woman is not pretty, and she has that magnetism, that can be dynamite. And if she’s pretty and she has that special something—that’s wild.” It makes sense then to see Shatner paired reclining with a sextuple-breasted fashionista in Jen Hsieh’s work, making love to a reptilian as depicted by Doug Fraser (who lists the Nichelle Nichols kiss as his favorite Star Trek moment), or exploring Marcos Chin’s distinctly female submarine terrain. After all, it’s all about magnetism, something a starship captain would surely understand.
Shatner the Romantic It’s always difficult for one man to talk about what makes another man attractive to the opposite sex. Obviously his physical perfection and his charm are a big factor. But my theory is part of the thing that makes him compelling is his passion, not only for the women of his life, but for everything he puts his hand to. He’s passionate about his work, about family, about horses, about the charities that he embraces. And there’s an inherent vulnerability in being passionate: it opens one up to critics and cynics, as referenced in Courtney Wotherspoon’s Shatner, looking idealistic despite the rotten tomatoes. It’s no coincidence to me that the most romantic portraits in the show are the ones where Shatner looks particularly vulnerable: Zina Saunders’ introspective backstage Shatner, James Lorincz’s eager and youthful portrait, or Elesavet Lawson’s touching reference to the tragedy that has touched Shatner’s life; in 1999 his wife, Nerine Kidd, drowned in their pool. In the title track on Shatner’s Has Been album, he at one point addresses those who criticize him despite having done little with their own lives: ‘What are you afraid of ? Failure? Me too.’ He references fear of failure again on ‘It Hasn’t Happened Yet’. It’s a powerful message, and a large part of what makes Shatner a romantic figure: that the way to avoid failure is simply to never stop trying. It’s an approach that some might call naïve. For Shatner, it has turned out to be terribly effective.
â€œEvery artist has their muse. Leonardo was inspired by the ceiling in the great chapel. Michelangelo found his art in the Italian marble. Who am I to stand in the way of all these fine artists and artisans who want to use my lumpy, aging face for inspiration? Some creators love a great sunset; some have in mind my bloodshot eyes. Nevertheless, out of awe, amusement, or pity, you should come and see this unique show.â€? William Shatner, the shatner show, 2007
ADAM HILBORN The Chronicles of Shatner graphite on mounted BFK Rives paper 13
darren booth “Je, suis, Shat, ner” acrylic and collage on paper
For me, the one aspect about Shatner that stands out is the way he (and his characters) spoke, pausing and changing his intonation to sound dramatic. No matter who does it, and no matter how good or bad a Shatner imitation is, you always know that it’s a Shatner imitation because it’s so unique.
mark todd Space Seed mixed media on canvas
karen & patrick andrews Canadian History 144 & Canadian History 207 found ephemera
ryan snook Shatner ink on bristol
KYLE REED Shatner & Nature digital collage
Shatner is my favourite Shatner character. To be Shatner may be too much for the common man who isnâ€™t used to being Shatner.
untitled acrylic and silkscreen
Kirk, without a doubt, is my favourite character. Kirk got to travel through space in the Enterprise, hang out with aliens and got beamed all over the place. TJ Hooker got to go on patrol in a Crown Victoria and deal with junkies, which just doesnâ€™t cut it in comparison.
dushan milic Chatner ink & digital 26
“I had no-o-o-o problem at all in going from ship to girl and girl to ship. My place, her planet… it was all the same to me…” William Shatner
douglas fraser Gornin’ alkyds (oil based) on canvas
How has Shatner influenced my life or my artwork? Something about wearing velour, weird sideburns, and go-go boots. Oh yeah! a spaceship that wasn’t a rocket, plus the dialogue between logic and emotion.
mark gervais untitled digital
I started thinking about that line in Fight Club where Edward Norton says that he would fight William Shatner if he could fight any celebrity. That lead me to imagining a bad ass Shatner covered in tattoos and it just flowed from there. I tried to make all of his tattoos relate to some part of his life/career. Finding a picture of him with his shirt off proved to be difficult. I gave up on searching and just decided to wing it.
justin reed Rock-et-man! acrylic on canvas 36
â€œCaptain Kirk lived pretty much the way I wanted to live. He was a distillation of all that I would like to be: heroic and romantic, forceful in battle and gentle in love, wise and profound. The ideal soldier/philosopher.â€? William Shatner
marc burckhardt untitled acrylic & oil on wood 41
russell walks The Shatner Equation graphite, digital, acrylic, coloured pencil
How has Shatner influenced your life or your artwork? Clearly, Shatner has never been afraid to take chances or to look foolish, and that’s a lesson I’ve tried to follow, both in my work and my life. If I fail at something new, at least I’ve tried, and if (as has often happened) the failure is spectacular, and is followed by pointing and laughter (as has also often happened), like Bill, I simply smile knowingly and nod my head.
Why is Shatner culturally important / relevant? Until Star Wars arrived in 1977, Star Trek was probably the biggest influence on my life. I remember putting myself to sleep by pretending I was in my bunk on the Enterprise. I practiced raising one eyebrow, like Spock, and I smiled at girls like Kirk would, with one side of my mouth turned up, and my eyes sort of crinkled at the corners. (And yet, even with all of the sexual magnetism and enigmatic handsomeness I was displaying, I had difficulty finding a girlfriend. Go figure…) And I wasn’t the only one affected by Star Trek; its influence has been discussed and written about for years (Heck, even the first space shuttle was named Enterprise). I think that Shatner and Nimoy are at the center of that influence, and that without them, the magic would have been missing. And while no one can argue that Nimoy has had a successful career, he hasn’t become the cultural icon that Shatner has, and I think that the answer why is simple: It’s the ears. When the pointed ears come off, Spock becomes Leonard, and while Leonard is a cool guy, he’s not magic. But William Shatner is James Kirk. Forty years later, the charm and bravado and self-confidence are all still there, and it doesn’t matter what the character’s name is. TJ Hooker is James T. Kirk in an LAPD uniform. Denny Crane is Kirk in a business suit. And Kirk is Shatner. And Shatner is magic, and that’s why he’s been at the pop-culture forefront for almost 50 years.
What was your creative process for this piece? My goal was to capture everything about Shatner that I’ve spent my life emulating—not just the half-smile and sparkling eyes, but also the smug self-confidence that causes rogue computers to blow up and women’s skirts to fall down.
Paul Hoppe Itâ€™s all in a dayâ€™s work at the Lake City Police Department india ink on vellum, digital colour 50
joe morse A Man Boldly Went oil and acrylic on paper
I’m waiting for that feeling of contentment That ease at night when you put your head down and the rhythm slow to sleep My heads sways and eyes start awake I’m there not halfway between sleep and death But looking into Eyes wide open Trying to remember What I might have done Should’ve done At my age I need serenity I need peace It hasn’t happened yet It hasn’t happened yet it hasn’t happened yet, has been, 2004
zina saunders Shatner Reflecting Drawing/digital
A Man Among Beasts digital
Shatner as Phaser, with Settings silkscreen
andrew degraff On the Precipice of Pain acrylic and torn paper on canvas
How has Shatner influenced your life or your artwork? I suppose that growing up in family without cable tv, as well as the coveted Nintendo, Atari, or Coleco game systems, I had little access to far-off aliens and other world civilizations. My only outlet was the original Star Trek series, so I suppose in these formative years, Shatner filled a role normally filled by computerized Italian plumbers, or elves, or whatever was going on in the greener grasses of cable-fied geekdom. My brother and I were, and are, fans of Kirk. He went where no man, let alone two brothers from an Albany duplex, was ever likely to go. And not without a good bit of style and bravado. Shatner’s Kirk was a cowboy of the perfect future. He fought the right fights, thought on his feet, and made-out with every galactic lady to cross his path. He was my John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and Humphrey Bogart rolled into one.
Why is Shatner culturally important / relevant? I think Shatner finds himself on a short list of those who have embraced celebrity with grace and humour. In this celebrity obsessed culture, he didn’t dissapoint. While most of my childhood idols are dead, reclusive, or totally corrupted by the lure of the infomercial, Shatner has maintained his status as a consummate showman: melding his mock self-portraits with performances infused eccentric personality. To return to music after his often mocked “Transformed Man” and create “Has Been” was surprising to the point that I would even call it courageous. The fact that it made my Top 5 of 2004 is almost an afterthought, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a great record. It’s hollow to call it a comeback. It sounds more like something he always wanted to make, and finally got the chance. Lots of celebrities from Hammer to K-Fed have made a joke of their career. Shatner made something really great out of it. He made art out of the very idea of celebrity. For most people fame is a summit. For Shatner, it’s a soapbox.
What was your creative process for this piece? We don’t have a lot in common, Shatner and I. So in scouring the many bios on the internet, I read about his 2005 episode with a kidney stone on the set of Boston Legal. I had found the link. At my friends’ wedding in 2006, I received the first pangs of what would become a life changing event for me. The realization that I was getting older, that I wasn’t taking care of myself like I should, coalesced in the form of built up calcium which must then exit my body: a solid, which must travel the road of a liquid. I wanted to create an image of that day for Shatner. A day whose only promise is pain, severe pain, and a promise that will keep fulfilling itself long after the day is done. I can only guess what sort implication the infliction might have had upon Shatner, but I know the trepidation of the diagnosis, and the uncertainty of the problem’s resolution. It will end, but you don’t know when or where. Just so you know, it feels like a sulphur tipped match instantly igniting in your abdomen for eight hours. It can’t kill you, but it certainly puts a rosier face on death.
sean kenney Plastic Shatner LEGO速 photographed by Jason Dziver
aaron leighton Spaced Out acrylic, collage, ink
andrea lam Manning the Rocket Man oil on masonite
Shatner has survived thus far by doing what he is best at: acting. He is now playing the character â€œWilliam Shatnerâ€?, and we love it. He has a great sense of humour about himself, and I think he purposefully plays up the hilarious things we know him for. My concept is William Shatner puppeteering his larger-than-life public persona.
elesavet lawson “You had said, don’t leave me, and I begged you not to leave me, we did.” oils and collage on board 94
genevieve simms William Shatner: the only celebrity to have his own disease gouache and ink on paper 104
Karen & Patrick Andrews Joy Ang Jackie Bagley Raymond Biesinger Darren Booth James Braithwaite Lisa Brawn Julia Breckenreid Lane Brookshire Calef Brown Marc Burckhardt Chelsea Cardinal Fred Casia Marcos Chin Alika Cooper Toby Cougar Andrew DeGraff Nick Dewar Ian Dingman Mark Dulmadge Byron Eggenschwiler Carolyn Fisher Brian Ford Douglas Fraser Justin Gabbard Scott Gandell Mark Gervais Arthur E Giron Tim Gough Keith Greiman Katherine Guillen Clayton Hanmer Adam Hilborn Paul Hoppe Jen Hsieh Tim Huesken Blair Kelly Sean Kenney Mike Kerr Karen Klassen Ronald Kurniawan Andrea Lam Scott Laumann Kendyl Lauzon Elesavet Lawson Jesse Lefkowitz Aaron Leighton Renata Liwska James Lorincz Stephen Lynch Scott Malin Ted McGrath Dushan Milic Joe Morse Alexander Perkins Katie Radke Brian Raszka Justin Reed Kyle Reed Martha Rich Erik Sandberg Zina Saunders Rick Sealock Keith Shore Genevieve Simms Ryan Snook Mark Todd Zach Trenholm Melissa Verge Jay Vollmar Russell Walks Esther Pearl Watson Courtney Wotherspoon Bruce Worthington
illustrations inspired by the life and career of william shatner curated by uppercase gallery