Shawn Smith was born in 1972 in Dallas, TX where he attended Arts Magnet High School and Brookhaven College before graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, MO with a BFA in Printmaking in 1995. Smith received his MFA in Sculpture from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco in 2005. He has received artist-in-residencies from the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA and the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, France. In 1996, Smith was a recipient of the Clare Hart DeGolyer grant from the Dallas Museum of Art. In 2006, he was commissioned to create a monumental public sculpture in San Francisco, CA. Smith’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States and in France. Smith currently resides in Austin, Texas and is represented by Craighead Green Gallery in Dallas and d. berman gallery in Austin.
SS: Cubed – Does not melt as fast. For the bonus question – it is a toss up between a wasp nest or Alfred Hitchcock.
LP: Which are better, obstacle courses or bounce houses?
SS: Definitely obstacle course. I like lots of vertical details, subterranean elements, and mud.
LP: Desert island song:
SS: “Who’s Gonna Save my Soul” by Gnarls Barkley or “Save Me” by Aimee Mann.
LP: How has your upbringing / childhood affected your art, or has it?
SS: I was born the year of Pong so I’ve always felt connected to blocky digital images. My father was very much a “detail” type person and a lot of that rubbed off on me.
LP: Explain your process start to finish. Are you just a glutton for punishment, or do you enjoy the seemingly tedious process that your concepts demand?
SS: A tediously long answer for a tediously long process:
Step 1: Mapping. I generally start by working out the concepts/idea with hand drawn sketches. Then, I find images of my subject matter, usually online. At this point I do another drawing (or “map” as I call it) on graph paper. By now, I will have an idea about what material I would like to use.I use a variety of materials, for example: balsa, bass, plywood, various plastics, and MDF (I call it the sausage of woods.)
Step 2: Cutting. For larger pieces I start with a 4’x8′ sheet of plywood and mill it down to individual strips. For example if I am using 1/2″ plywood, I mill the sheet down to 1/2″ strips. Next, I set up a jig on the table saw and cut the incremental pieces. So for example, if I am using 1/2″ plywood cut into 1/2″ strips, I will probably cut the strips into 1/2″ increments like 1/2″ cubes up to 24″x1/2″x1/2″. Yes, I still have all my fingers.
Step 3: Adding color. I hand dye each pixel individually. I hand-mix my inks and dyes with various mediums and start adding color. Most of the dye is altered by adding other colors or shades after a few pieces are colored. After all of the dyeing, I sort the pieces according to size and color. The sorting is especially tedious.
Step 4: Building. I usually start in the middle of the piece (usually on a French cleat if it is a wall piece) and work out towards the edges. I use a lot of wood glue. I buy it by the gallon.
I don’t feel like a glutton for punishment; it is just how I work.
Don’t forget to check out more of Shawn’s work on his website!
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Lindsay Preston is an artist and graphic designer from San Diego. In “Lindsay’s Quick Queries”, Lindsay brings you work by contemporary artists, and answers to the questions everyone has been wondering about them, like “pancakes or waffles?”