We had the good fortune of connecting with Shawn Harris and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shawn, why did you pursue a creative career?
I never gave much consideration to other career paths. The interest was in finding decent jobs that would train me in new materials and processes, to absorb the experiences into my own skills set, translate them into my own art practice. Custom metal fabrication, product photography, photo finishing, framing, art handling, were all jobs that helped shape me. There came a point when the accumulated experiences weren’t benefiting me in finding my ‘ideal’ job. My own art was in a good groove and I dedicated myself to it. It’s been pointed out that I prioritize art making over myself and my relationships. I want to believe that good art has some correlation to the amount of time one spends practicing it. The odds of making a living with it are certainly against a person, which feels like the perfect challenge to chase after. I like having an unchecked passion and dedication to the work, especially now. I’m trying to be present with where things are at the moment, ‘appreciate the journey’ kind of thing, seeing the time pay off as the quality tightens. It’s only been in the past few months that I’ve felt like the work has rounded a corner. I feel like everything is coming together, leaving me anxious to begin the next piece. I love imagining the most random thoughts to myself and being able to translate those imaginings into something shareable. These images are how I see my world. Sharing it with others willing to stop and listen is a total joy…that’s the artistic path at its happiest.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
It took me seven years to get through a four year college art program. I bounced from painting and drawing to printmaking, film making, and graduated with an emphasis in photography. Even though my work is photo based, there’s still an endless number of reasons to break out the oil paint, polymer clay, soldering iron, gold leaf, resin…. The work I’m making today, and for the past six years, is photo-based imagery with a crazy amount of photo editing using Photoshop. My work begins with shooting landscapes and interiors. I’ve always been inspired by good landscape photography. For me, landscape photography often leaves me wondering how animals and humans interact within the space. When photographing a place, I listen for the stories, I wonder what craziness may have taken place. Was there an alien abduction? A bear wrestling a pack of raccoons while riding a motorcycle? Anything is possible, I’m interested in seeing how much of a story I can get away with. I want to present what might be a scene from a movie or an introduction to a novel that’s gone off the rails. Create a composition that takes the viewer on a bit of a journey. Some images/stories get right to the point, other images are vague and left open for interpretation. Offering a starting point, I hope the viewer listens for their own stories and contemplates the different possibilities. And did I mention I dress up in the masks and outfits, standing in as the characters? I’ve collected roughly 200 latex masks and a large collection of props and clothes to create the foregrounds and characters. Friends volunteer, some reluctantly, but 95% of the time this is a solo project, camera on a tripod with a timer. Lately, I shoot 500-1000 images to make one final piece. I may only use 50-125 of those images to make the final piece but I have to over-shoot my options, pick and choose the right props with the right angles/lighting/perspectives. I digitally layer everything together and print my work on aluminum. Some of the challenges to the work and relying on it to pay the bills is the amount of time each piece takes. I can hear my art teacher telling the class, “To be the better artist than those sitting around you, better than others in your field, the best artists will continue working after others have stopped ”. I try to put in my time. The better artists I’ve met along the path are those putting in the time, obsessed with their processes…there’s truth to putting in your time and hard work, nothing else replaces that.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Do I have a favorite spot in the city? I assume this is more specific to Denver, or almost any other town larger than Trinidad. But, since I haven’t lived any other place in Colorado, I’ll tell you my dream day here in Trinidad- We’d walk three blocks from the house to main street and have lunch at the Trinidad Smoke House (Barb-B-Que on par with Texas and Kansas City, seriously). After lunch, a walking tour of town, from one end of Main Street to the other, checking out the old brick buildings, popping in to the AR Mitchell Museum of Western Art. We’d stop in a few antique stores and thrift shops making our way to Walter’s Beer Garden and Grill to have a beverage on the patio, listen to some live music. Then we walk over to the baseball field and catch a few innings of the Trinidad Triggers, which is great people watching, a bit like stepping back in time in a good way. For dinner we’re at Rino’s Italian Restaurant where the food is fantastic, the waiters sing karaoke, the owner is a character and makes each visit something wonderful. That would be our itinerary with plenty to do the following day.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
If I could give a big hug of thanks to a couple folks, and few groups who deserve public funding/ donations to keep things moving forward– Colorado Artist Relief Fund for sending me grant money to help transition my business during the pandemic. National Endowment for the Arts for awarding me grant money and encouragement for furthering my art practice. The Peter Royce Family in San Francisco for providing super-affordable rent to me and 40 other artists, a wonderful think tank of like-minded artists living under one roof. I lived there for eight years and was able to experiment, explore, refine, play, and experience art and culture in the Bay area. I was afforded the time and freedom to hammer out the aesthetics and visual language of my current work. PBS deserves a huge shout out. As a kid I was mesmerized by a show where a short story was being read aloud while an artist would draw two or three images of the story being told… I loved watching the story unfold this way, I still remember being fascinated by someone using a handful of colored pencils to convey a book’s essence. PBS hooked me, I’ve always wanted to make narrative-rich images ever since. Finally, most importantly on my list of eternal gratitude, my high school art teachers John and Bill, much love.
Shawn Ray Harris