Pierogi: Do you have a concise idea of what a work will become before beginning?
Shane McAdams: I do and I don’t. There are parameters that I set based on materials. I’m choosing specific materials for a piece so usually it begins with an assumption that it has something to offer, but I don’t necessarily know what that is going to be. I sometimes take a mundane material, such as a ballpoint pen, which I do because it hasn’t been manipulated for centuries like many typical art-making materials, which don’t have as many unknowns, so I try to break its back and see what I can do with it.
P: Can you explain the technical process of your pen blow pieces?
SM: They’re called pen blows because they’re made by taking an ink cartridge from a cheap ballpoint pen and blowing through it. The ink is very viscous; if you take water and blow it out of a thin straw it’ll atomize and turn into a mist, but if you do it with something like a polymer that doesn’t want to break apart, such as the pen ink, it forms strings. So then I started taking different materials and seeing what else I could do to the ink…. pouring alcohol, acetone, and epoxy resin on it.
P: You’ve managed to maintain a signature look to your work, while utilizing different sizes and content. Some contain representational imagery like landscapes, while others are entirely about color and material. Can you talk about how each type of work differs for you?
SM: They’re different bodies of work in a way, but conceptually they’re from the same source. The seeds, or germs, of everything that I do start as basically a material experiment. Earlier on I had an issue with doing these experiments, because certain things are very pure to me like these simple sharpie drawings, and those are the types of work that feel like I could do at any time in my life. Other works are more exemplary of me thinking through things, and more about a conceptual process. At some point I had a problem with how those two things related, but then I realized that I’m the boss of my studio, and I really can just make whatever I’d like. In grad school, you are encouraged toward conceptual unity, but eventually you realize you can do anything you want. So I see these as different bodies of work because the materials create a different starting point, but in the end my interest is in analyzing what is real and what is synthetic. I tend to see some drawings as very organic while other people may find them very abstract, and my interpretation of abstract in that sense is that they aren’t part of reality, meanwhile I think that process is extra real. In order to steer the discussion in the direction that I want it to go, I would paint something like Niagara Falls, like something that Frederic Church would do, and in terms of the imagery, I was looking for poetry, rather than conceptual meaning in those works.
P: Much of your work has a psychedelic and surrealist quality to it, especially the synthetic landscapes. How did you arrive at this aesthetic?
SM: I think part of it is natural to me. I’ve been told I have this high-chroma thing happening. Sometimes I try to pick something that’s toned down, but it ends up coming out highly chromatic. I’ve always liked getting gray from orange and green at the same time, sort of a Seurat pointillist effect. Sometimes you want to get away from yourself, but I just can’t seem to get away from saturated color. So I guess that’s just me.
And the idea of going through a vortex in the paintings, that happens in some of the Synthetic Landscapes, and that’s deliberately a sort of ‘picture postcard’ history of painting. I think of historical landscape paintings being vertical, on an easel, and that they’re meant to look as though you could walk into them. Meanwhile, I flatten them out, they have this vertical and horizontal thing going, and it looks as though you’re going in and out of the space. The space is both real and illusionistic. I’m interested in the physics of it too, because I make part of the painting just by using material that moves on its own, so I’m interested in how physics makes this fake space, while I’m making this real place through representational painting, at the same time.
P: Where do the images of the landscapes come from?
SM: It started out with Niagara Falls, and other iconic images of landscape. I went to Frederic Church’s estate in Olana, and took pictures of his house and the views of the Hudson that inspired his work. But eventually the symbolism turned to poetry. I’m working on pieces now that express my interest in lines, such as rows of crops. In relation to more natural, process-based forms. I’m looking at something that’s organic and that grows, so now a lot of the imagery hinges on the poetry of an image and its relationship to the abstract forms that are less under my control.
P: You’ve recently done a collaboration with a fashion designer. Can you talk about how that came about, and what it was like to collaborate?
SM: He enjoyed the look of my work, because of the saturation, and wanted to work with me. It’s interesting to me to see my work printed on clothing, rather than on a panel. The outfits seem very meta to me conceptually, because of the fact that it’s so removed from the original source, the original painting, but I think they look great. He’s transformed my work enough so that it’s very much his, it’s very much part of this clothing line, rather than my work existing on clothing.
P: Has your place of origin had any affect on your work?
SM: There’s two formative times for me. I’ve moved around a lot, and the house that my wife and I just moved into in Wisconsin was her great aunt’s, right by the house she grew up in. So the demarcations that each of us has to indicate time in our lives are very different. I consider there to be two formative moments in everyone’s life: the magical formative, and the John Hughes formative, which is the awkward pubescent formative. The Hughes formative for me happened in a very vanilla area of suburban Kansas City. I went to a Breakfast Club type of high school with football players pushing people into lockers and all of that. But the magical part of growing up, figuring out who I was and why I was there, was in the Southwest, and that relates to everything I do in a basic way..not so much in terms of the imagery, but in terms of why I like materials, why I like to dump resin on panels and break ballpoint pens open. I used to walk around the desert and take magnets and get iron filings from the area and put them in my dads chewing tobacco containers and let them rust. Graduate school helped me find that, not to make art to look good per se, but more about ‘what would you do if you were just stuck somewhere, what would you make?’ That lead me to my affinity for materials.
P: Do you have any shows coming up?
Unhinged” Pierogi, Brooklyn, NY
July 5 – July 28
“Hand to Earth”, Scream Gallery, London (Collaboration with fashion-designer Matthew Williamson)
September 6 – October 20
“Landscape: Two Views”, Iona College Chapman Gallery, New Rochelle, NY
Monday, October 21 – Thursday, December 5
Storefront Bushwick with Lisa Corinne Davis and Aaron Williams
December 6-January 12, 2014
Pierogi’s flat files contain several works by Shane McAdams, a selection of which are viewable here.