Interview with Shaun Morin
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By Adrian Williams
Adrian Williams: In the past there was a reasonably clear range of influences on your work. I'll name a few for the sake of clarity: R. Crumb, Lil Nemo, Philip Guston, the German Neo-Expressionists, street/bathroom stall graffiti. As things evolve, however, your visual sources are increasingly difficult to pinpoint. I'm starting to see maps, instruction manuals, biology textbooks....
What's going on in there these days?
Shaun Morin: It's important to keep looking for things that catch my eye. I want to establish the artistic freedom to explore visually within the different styles of painting. As the search goes on, the custom visual blends get more difficult to decipher. The less familiar it becomes for me, the more enticing it is to make, It becomes like a search for a first kiss over and over. The more the search goes on for new discoveries the more sophisticated the eye becomes and the deeper the ability for an authentic and original experience to share.
AW: Your approach to visual space is complex: at first glance, a flat or 2 dimensional plane tends to dominate both the ground and the imagery within it. Upon a closer look there are clearly a multitude of depths and dimensions jostling and jangling within the picture frame. This particular tension gives the surface a distinct, for lack of a better word, pulse.
Would you care to comment on your use (sense) of visual space?
SM: To be honest, this space you refer to has always been a difficult place for me. It has so much potential for great depth and I humbly take a brush there with the hopes of creating a new unvisited place. I would almost think of my spaces as being contradictory, they aren’t linear/functional landscapes where you would be able to physically relate to with your body. They sometimes have a density in the places that should be transparent or the ground is made up of a wispy brush stroke without the strength to hold up the weight that’s present. The spaces develop from contrasting suggestive, recognizable and purely abstract together.
I believe that works do have energy, like you mention a Pulse. The energy the artist projects onto the works they make also reflect off on to the viewer. The viewer becomes attracted to the energy that they feel within themselves when looking at art work, art is like a mirror they can show the inside of ones self.
AW: The exuberant use of imagery is a striking feature in a lot of your work. Metaphorically speaking, it appears as though you're at ease dealing simultaneously with a controlled burn and a forest fire, without losing your thematic/narrative thread.
How is this cacophony of images negotiated? First-come-first-serve or do you hold out for that special someone/something or both?
SM:A fresh white canvas can be intimidating, because it is everything and nothing all at once, it has true potential. This preciousness that is felt at the beginning of each new work is addictive, it’s like a perfect middle zone between fear and love. The struggle arises for me if I’m trying to control too much in a painting. In my opinion the best results come from a 50/50 percent relationship between the artist and their medium. The imagery I use in my work is a combination of free flow narrative and preconceived ideas in union, a mysterious poetry. I allow the third hand to enter at times. I like to tell stories, like choose your own adventure types, mixing tenderness and pain with the possibility for hopes and dreams. A big part of my process is intuitive; I try to make slight suggestions to initiate multiple interpretations. In that careful balance between control and detachment there is still a difficulty to get the right feel to show in a work, to expose a vulnerability that comes from an honest struggle of making pictures. Sometimes I scrape out or paint a part over and over before its right.
AW: Un-self-conscious melancholy and a deft sense of irony often tight-rope their way throughout your visual narrative. In short, tragicomedy appears to be an integral ingredient to your stage-craft (as it does with a remarkable number of Winnipeg-bred image-based artists).
I don't really have a direct question in regards to this but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the matter.
SM: There is a lot of down time here in this town, the isolation brings on introspection, which is great for artists creatively but can also lead to psychological pit falls as well. Too much time for thinking can be both good and bad depending on what you hold in mind. Humor is one of the greatest tools for healing wounds, its good energy to surround yourself with. Using humour in ones art usually takes detachment from the experience. One needs to go through a spiritual as well as or a psychological transformation in order to see this human condition in all its absurdity as well as its tenderness. When it’s done with sincerity, and the artist can own the battle they share, the authenticity is what makes it work in the end. It is a dangerously romantic place to make art from. The ones that do it well know the sweet spot that carefully steps around the slippery slopes of self-pity and also avoids knee-slapping laughter at ones own jokes.
AW: I know that you're enthusiastic about a wide variety of music: How does non-visual phenomena provide inspiration/desperation? How might this material, if at all, find it's way into your working process?
SM: Music has always had an important purpose for me, since I was young, its had the ability to enhance my mood both up and down. It can be used as a tool to bring different emotions to the surface and transform feeling into paint. The music I’m listening to becomes a soundtrack for whatever I’m working on. Similar to my relationship with painting, I love the feeling of finding a new song or album to enjoy, something new to add to my mix. I often compare music and painting and draw parallels between the two to help me make sense of things through analogies. When I think about my practice, I feel like a visual conductor who orchestrates in pictures.
AW: This question is kind of a clumsy one... Your various protagonists are often observed being caught between moments of intimate emotional perturbation and, in some sense, failing to succeed/succeeding to fail the weird and complex world around them. Now, especially in your newer work, there increasingly appears to be another, more indifferent world of patterns, cosmic paths, elemental phenomena, geometric puzzles etc. flowing through and between the moments of narrative drama. What's happening out there? Formally? Existentially?
SM: The limitations of the body within a physical realm are some of the things I feel interested in trying to express in my work. You said it all above, The surrounding areas are like mystical domains, These areas you mention are my attempt to express invisible energies as well as emphasize an areas importance like a cropping tool. These patterns also hold the universe together in my paintings. Haha.
AW: One of your newer paintings, entitled Fly By Night, suggests a more specific evolutionary step. Not only for the solid form (a sort of giant, truncated diamond) that dominates and alters the picture frame but especially for the rich, dense colours that appear in the corners (the ostensible negative space left by the large, central diamond overlay). The potential for all sorts of structural possibilities is quite clear. But what i find particularly exciting is this apparently new, Matisse-like use of colour. How did this piece come about? How does it portend the future?
SM: For a while I simplified my color pallet to practice being silent, I wanted my works to whisper with intimacy. Fly by Night was a result of using pure saturated colors amongst muted pastel colors in a different ratio than I had used in the past. it has a large diamond like shape altering the outskirts of the picture frame as if the images are contained within the shapes presence. This work is a bit different because for once the edges leading off the corners of the canvas have more purpose in the composition. There is a decorative element with the patterning that also serves to dissolve the canvas's rectangular shape. The power of opposites are conflicting together in this one and emphasize one another, the bright colors seem brighter now and the light and dark colors feel lighter and darker than before. Matisse alone, has so much to teach me about color.
Adrian Williams (b.1974) is a Canadian visual artist from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and holds a B.F.A. Hon. from the University of Manitoba. He was a founding member of Winnipeg's collaborative artist collective The Royal Art Lodge (1996–2008). He currently lives and works in Berlin.