Interviews

Ten Questions with Shawn Huckins

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Shawn Huckins (American, B. 1984) is an artist based in Denver, Colorado who merges historical imagery with contemporary texts, to create technically astute and humorous paintings.

A New Hampshire native, he earned his BA in Studio Art magna cum laude at Keene State College and is represented by galleries in Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco. His work has been published widely and he has earned a number of awards and grants for his work. He his shown his work around the United States and internationally, with a new solo exhibition Happy Go Lucky opening at Galerie Bessiéres in Chatou, France, this October.

I have followed Shawn’s work for some time, along with his thousands of other followers on Instagram. I enjoy the way he mixes art historical tropes with language of our time. His unconventional paintings pair his skills and sense of humor to create images that are fun and exciting.

-Michael


Q1. Your paintings are very labor intensive. What steps go in to making one of your paintings and about and how long do they take to produce?

A1.  The beginning stages of my paintings all begin with playing around on the computer.  Once I find a text phrase to marry with a classical portrait, I will play around in Photoshop with text size and placement over top an image of the portrait I’m going to replicate from the 18th/19th century.  Once I’m happy with the final composition, I will draw out the entire image (including drafting out the text) onto plain white canvas.  From here, I will mask off the text with tape and begin the underpainting.  After the painting is complete and I’m satisfied with the end result, I will remove the tape to reveal the white lettering below.  I will then touch up the letters with white paint, as sometimes the portrait portion of the painting will seep below the tape.  From beginning to end, it takes generally 2-3 weeks to finish a mid/large painting.  Smaller works can take a week and my largest canvases can take up to two months.

Q2. Your work regularly references art historical subjects. What attracts you to specific historical works?

 A2.  I think the first thought is ‘can I replicate this in a convincing and respectable manner?’ I’m really drawn to fancy clothing and detailed lace, which add times to the production process, but the end results are stunning.  I typically veer toward more realistic portraits rather than gestural works, since my work is realistic based.  I have done more gestural, ‘painterly’ paintings in the past, but I’m more comfortable with realism.

Q3. Do drawings and preparatory studies play a large role in your process? If so, how do you utilize them?

A3.  I typically only do drawings, or small paint studies when I’m trying a new technique.  I use small, cheap canvas board to do my experiments before applying them to the larger, final painting.  Most of prep work is done on the computer in regards to getting the composition correct.  For very large works with tons of detail, I will draw detailed drawings of portions of the painting onto trace instead of drawing on canvas, as to not dirty up the white canvas too much.  Once I have my drawings on trace finalized, I draw it in reverse and rub the drawing onto the canvas.

Q4. Text is a major component of your work. How do you decide your text and image pairings and what are your goals in these?

 A4.  Deciding which text goes with which painting isn’t really a science.  It just was feels right.  I will take into consideration if the portrait is male or female, their posture, and the look on the face.  I have a very large document containing texts I’ve collected over the years which I scout for on social media.  I rarely, if ever, use my own text as I feel it would be too contrived.  The goal is to capture the digital language of today and to show the debasement of language as it becomes shorter (ie, LOL) and grammatically incorrect.

Q5. You have exhibited widely. What do you hope audiences take away from viewing your paintings?

A5. The main goal is to make people smile and laugh.  Yes, I’m talking about the de-evolvution of the English language and how communication skills are suffering due from the rise of technology, but if you smile, that’s the joy in it for me.  During my last show in Seattle, my partner was standing by the door and overheard people as they were coming in for opening night.  He saw people’s faces light up and smile as they walked in and overheard one couple saying ‘we need more people like him in the world.’  That made my whole night.

Q6. Who are other artists working today that you admire and why?

A6.  There are so many great artists today and it’s so easy to discover them by way of Instagram.  Some of my favorites are Vivian Green, Matt Hansel, and Amy Bennett. They motivate and push me to keep producing my best work possible.  Maybe it’s a subconscious artist rivalry thing, but being engaged and surrounded by the work you admire only helps you produce work that you can be proud of.

Q7. Do you feel the humor in your work makes it more accessible to a broader audience?

A7. I feel more people have a better response (myself included) if the work is playful and engaging.  I’ve never produced deep and dark themed paintings because I’m not attracted to that subject matter.  While it certainly has its place in the world, I’d rather create work that makes people smile and laugh.  I remember in college, one of my professors was trying to get me to paint subject matter that was really dark and twisted, and I just couldn’t feel it.  I think she was trying to get me to use art as a therapy session.  I use painting as a creative outlet, for sure, but not in the way my professor was seeking.

Q8. In terms of preparation, how do you frame your work? Historical works like those you reference may have been framed extravagantly. Do you prefer more traditional or contemporary frames?

 A8. I prefer the no-frame method. I like the contemporary look using the thick canvas stretcher bars as the frame for the classical painting to give it a nice contrast along with the text.  This option also allows the collector to choose what they feel is right for their homes (if they want a frame).  Collector’s have sent me images of their paintings in simple maple floater frames, or another chose to have their painting in an ornate, gold leaf frame.  I think both look great.  I would choose the simple, maple floater frame.

Q9. You mostly utilize historical imagery from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Have you or would you consider working from other periods or other types of underlying images?

Q10. What is the next major project you’re working on?

A9./10. I’m working on a new project which will debut in June 2020 at K Contemporary in Denver.  It involves working with Roman sculpture from around 100 - 300 A.D. time periods.  I’m moving away from contrasting classical paintings and digital text to Roman sculpture and the American discourse.  It’s basically a new series of destruction and rebirth, but again, in a playful, engaging manner.  I am very excited to start this.

Ten Questions with Lydia Mozzone

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Lydia Mozzone is an artist living and working in Boston’s North End. Lydia’s work has exhibited her paintings at the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the Lore Degenstein Gallery in Selinsgrove, PA, and in a two
person show at the Cape Cod Cultural Center, South Yarmouth, MA alongside her mother, Michele Poirier-Mozzone. Her work recently gained regular representation with Coastal Contemporary Gallery in Newport, RI.

Lydia is a painter whose figurative work explores the complex relationships between women and their bodies within the context of contemporary life. She earned her undergraduate degree in studio art at Skidmore College.

In 2018, I selected Lydia as one of ten “Artists to Watch” for Boston Accent Lit and I have continued to follow her work. I am thrilled to share this interview with a talented emerging artist with you.

-Michael


Q1. Your work is primarily figurative and focuses on the nude. Do you have regular models for your paintings or do you work from photographs, memory, etc?

A1. I use photographs I've taken of roommates and friends through a foggy glass shower as reference for my paintings. Using a photo lets me map out my canvas and refer to the image until I'm happy with my drawing and composition. Then, I can put down the image and react to and enhance what the paint is doing organically. I find this process to be very freeing.

Q2. The nude has a long tradition in art history. Do you see your work in conversation with historical precedent or as a departure from past works predominantly created by male artists?

A2. Many classical nudes portray a confident woman who is acknowledging the viewer; she might be looking directly at us, making little effort to conceal herself. I admire these historical paintings, but I do see my work as a departure from that point of view. My "ladies" are very much about of the complicated relationship the modern woman has with her own body rather than a depiction of confidence and sexuality.

Q3. You studied art at Skidmore College. Can you talk more about your educational background and the role it played in shaping your work?

A3. For the first two years as a Fine Art major at Skidmore, we drew the figure and still-life in charcoal. Regardless of concentration, each student had to spend many hours perfecting proportion, perspective and composition in charcoal before exploring other mediums. I think Skidmore's approach directly inspired my "style" once I discovered oils. I have an obsession with realistic figurative areas interacting with loose, textural spaces in a painting. I still do remain more technical at the beginning of a painting, and then let the handcuffs off to achieve the organic marks I love.

Q4. You have shown your work previously at other venues. But what role do you see your relationship with Coastal Contemporary Gallery playing in your career as a fine artist?

A4. Coastal Contemporary is the first gallery to represent my paintings. I'm thrilled to be showing my work in Newport, and am especially excited to have Shari (the director and owner of Coastal Contemporary) representing my paintings. She is an incredible artist herself and has such an elegant and approachable way of speaking about and curating the work in the gallery.

Q5. Your mother is also an artist, Michele Poirier-Mozzone. How has having another artist in your immediate family influenced your development?

A5. My mom has been the biggest influence in my life artistically. She taught me to draw as a kid and has been providing unfiltered, honest critiques ever since. Each of us has turned areas of our homes into a painting studio. Having a home studio is convenient but isolating, so we’re constantly texting images and calling each other to bounce ideas and critiques back and forth.

I'm extremely lucky to have her support as I carve out my own art career. Her work has inspired me to appreciate deliberate brush strokes, to diversify my "go-to" color palettes, and to keep evolving and challenging my own series of work.

Q6. You've mentioned the importance of drawing to your paintings. Do you exclusively work in charcoal? And are your drawings strictly preparatory or would you consider exhibiting them as finished works?

A6. As a student, I worked in charcoal and graphite constantly. Now that I work mainly in oils, I use graphite pencils to sketch composition ideas for larger paintings. When I move to the canvas, I draw out the composition again with a thin brush and oil paint. I no longer treat my drawings as finished works, but I do think it would be really interesting to explore my series in charcoal or graphite one day! 

Q7. Speaking of influences, what famous artist(s), historical or contemporary, are you currently inspired by and why?

A7. I look at Gerhard Richter for his beautiful lost edges. I love Alex Kanevsky's figures - his compositions are always so unique and I admire his ability to boldly integrate a flesh tone into a cool background and vice versa. I'm also inspired by Jenny Saville's juicy, gestural strokes; her marks make her paintings feel so emotional.

Q8. You work in a variety of scale from 8" x 8" to works that near life size. What role does scale play in your work?

A8. For years I rarely worked on canvases smaller then 4 feet. Painting the figure at a life-size scale is a really cool exercise; it's a very physical process requiring movement of the whole body. Lately I've been working at a much smaller scale. Initially this transition was out of necessity, as I couldn't fit large stretchers into my apartment, but it has challenged me and taught me a lot. It's much easier to overwork a smaller painting - but smaller canvases also lend themselves to making bolder, textural marks, which I find really exciting.

Q9. Can you speak more to your painting process? Do you create the distinct textures using brush or palette knife or both? How do you develop the unique qualities of your surfaces?

A9. I use a mix of palette knife and brush strokes throughout my painting process. I find I can capture an atmospheric "foggy" feeling best when painting "wet into wet" - so often I'll go over a whole dried canvas with Galkyd medium before going back into it. I try to mix hard and soft edges in my paintings - blurring the background into the figure in some places, and using harder lines elsewhere. I use the palette knife to keep a sense of immediacy and spontaneity throughout my process. I try not to overthink it (though that's easier said than done!).

Q10. What projects are on the horizon for you and how do you see your work growing or changing?

A10. I think it's important that a series of paintings never becomes too formulaic - so I'd like to continue to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Now that I've been working at a small scale, I think it would be really interesting to see how these smaller works would inform my process if I go back to very large pieces. I've also been thinking about using a spotlight in the shower, pumping up the contrast and drama in my pieces.

Ten Questions with Michelle Benoit

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Michelle Benoit is a contemporary artist based in Rhode Island who utilizes translucent and toned Lucite to create minimal and enticing forms. She holds a BFA from Rhode Island College and earned her MA and MFA at the University of Iowa. Michelle’s artwork rewards extended looks and deep consideration. In the following ten questions we talk about her work, process, and more. Read our conversation and explore Michelle’s work on her website or her Instagram. Her work can be found at Memorial Sloan Kettering, the University of Iowa Museum, and in numerous private collections. She has exhibited widely and is represented by galleries in Scottsdale, Philadelphia, New York, Frankfurt, and Milan. She recently was the subject of a wonderful show at AS220 in Providence, RI and is now featured in the exhibition Object/Subject: Two Voices at Margaret Thatcher Projects in New York through October 13.


Q1. Can you talk about how you get started on a piece? Do you create preliminary sketches or studies, or what other preparation is involved?

A1. I purchase and occasionally collect scraps of Lucite. So the compositions have to conform to the size, shape and availability of the remnants. After we cut the components I work with the materials for a bit, stacking, looking at how the shapes receive light, and the various possibilities.  From here I often sketch out ideas of what the possibilities could be once I adhere and re-cut the shapes. I respond to the material throughout the process and there is always an element of the unexpected.

Q2: Your work has a feeling of precision. Do you consider your process precise or is there an element of spontaneity?

A2. I have discovered that this material is entirely unforgiving. So there is a certain amount of exactness that has to happen while cutting and clamping the work, so that the piece can withstand the continued cutting in addition to retaining the applied color. I intentionally never really know what the work will look like and always respond to a work when it is uncovered from the clamps. It is on very rare occasion that the work does not need further manipulation either by additive, subtractive or both processes.

Q3. Color plays an important role in your work. Can you speak more to your palate and how you select colors for your work?

A3. Color is symbolic of time for me. For this exhibition Laminae, I have chosen colors from my childhood bedroom. During graduate school I had found old fabric from curtains that we had sewn when I was quite young. I also chiseled into the walls to reveal the layers of colors over the years and applied an adhesive to these things and peeled them away, the colors absorbed permanently in the glue. The color in this exhibition is extracted from that time there with my sisters and those that were there before us.

Q4. Though there are clear differences, your work is reminiscent of the colorfield paintings of Mark Rothko, who you have cited as an influence. Can you discuss how Rothko or other artists have impacted your work and how you seek to change or improve upon his or other artists' ideas?

A4. For me there is an extremely powerful exchange of energy when in the presence of a Rothko painting. I think to some extent there is an element of silence that allows for this reciprocity to be initiated. While I could never hope to improve on what he has accomplished, I can collect fragments of my life through color and give them a shape to see what it looks like.

Q5. Your work references time, memory, spacial experience, and other topics. What, if any, advice do you have for audiences looking at your work on how to view it, and how to engage with it?

A5. I have been working on a diagrammatic drawing of a personal color symbolism. It is fluid and an ongoing project which may have various iterations in future exhibitions. But for now, I can hope that something in the work would give pause, or slow time for just a moment to evoke consideration from the viewer.

Q6. You exhibit widely and have international gallery representation including in New York, Frankfurt, and Milan. What advice might you give emerging makers looking to develop their own careers as exhibiting artists?

A6. I highly recommend taking advantage of social media. If you are persistent you can expose your work internationally, finding your audience. I have also made great connections with other artists that I otherwise would not have.

Q7: Your work tends to be more intimately scaled. Can you speak more to the size of your works and how you find the right scale?

A7. Much of my work is determined by the size of the fragments that I buy. Additionally the intimacy of small scale works is always something that I am drawn to. A goal is to attempt to, catch and redirect light with these materials. To some extent I can only work to the scale of my current tools and the fragments that I buy. But I do have ideas and some sketches for larger works that I am looking forward to having a bit of time to start experimenting with these thoughts. I hope to merge the intimacy often found in  small scale works to the experience that seems to happen with larger scale artwork. This may be impossible, but it is something that I am working on.

Q8. You have a large following on social media including over 7,000 followers on Instagram (@michelle.benoit). Does this impact your practice or influence the way your engage with new peers, gallerists, or potential collectors?

A8. I am working in the studio seven days a week do to prior commitments with galleries. Additionally we are restoring our 18th Century farmhouse while we are living in it. So I have very little free time lately. I often use Instagram to get some much needed separation from the work and also some feedback. Conversations with collectors can be very different than those with my peers.

Q9: Can you share the process behind preparing for your recent show at AS220? Was all the work made specifically for this exhibition, how long have you been working on this show, and are there any other details you might like to share?

A9. The AS220 opportunity came up just a few weeks before the exhibition. I had signed up to show at the Project Space about 3 or 4 years ago and remember a pretty long waiting list.  My show ‘Laminae’ was happening at McKenzie Fine Arts in NYC and I was working on new pieces for my exhibition at Margaret Thatcher Projects. Because I was working under the same continued theme I combined a selection of works from each exhibition for the AS220 show. It took about a year to make all of the work for this show.

Q10: What forthcoming projects are you most excited about? What's next for you? 

A10. Currently I am working on my solo exhibition at Morotti Arte Contemporanea, in Milan Italy for November so of course I am excited about this.  I was recently invited to a group exhibition at the college of William and Mary that is part of an interdisciplinary research project with the neuroscience department. The group of artists that I will be showing with are pretty fantastic and I am just really ecstatic that a connection was made between my work and a project in neuroscience. And I am very excited about my show Object/Subject:Two Voices with Kevin Finklea at Margaret Thatcher Projects. This show runs through October 13th.

You can learn more about Michelle at her website, michellebenoit.net.