The American __tier by Shawn Huckins Reimagines Tumblr in Oil Paint


Shawn Huckins and is a visual artist based in Denver, Colorado. His paintings, with their unique blend of painterly skill and digital vernacular, are instantly recognisable. Created as a homage to classical American painters, Shawn’s work makes subtle comments on self-perception, the way we see others, and the bizarre outcomes of our journey from one social paradigm to another. Shawn’s recently released works are a series of paintings titled ‘The American __tier’ and they’ll either leave you laughing or scratching your head.

Shawn tells me that Denver is a great place for artists; with new new galleries popping up and maker-designer communities thriving, it’s a good place to connect with other creatives. Shawn’s own work draws a great deal of influence from his surroundings. Having made the move to Denver from New England three years ago, he’s found the energy there very different and found himself able to reflect on his work, changing it up for the better.

Despite being known almost exclusively for his distinctive acrylic paintings, Shawn hasn’t always been fan of painting. ‘As a kid I used to love drawing in my little sketchbooks’ he says. ‘When I was nine, in 1993, my Grandmother passed and I was given her oil painting set. My family knew that I loved the arts but I hated the experience because I didn’t really know how to use oil paint as a medium. I returned to drawing and didn’t try painting again until late high school. After being influenced by my professors, I gave it another shot.’

Shawn’s portfolio is heavily influenced by his visits to museums hosting works by 18th and 19th century American artists and he now spends a fair amount of his time researching painters such as John Singleton Copley and George Caleb Bingham. Having never really focused on the figure or portraiture before, Shawn admits his attempt to replicate the styles of vintage American paintings was intimidating to begin with. Though now he seems to have nailed the process, merging sardonic frowns with disruptive Rofls.

Meticulous about his processes, Shawn works mainly with traditional tools and methods, eschewing the use of photoshop entirely. The only digital aspect of his work is the initial sketch in which the text compositions are tried and tested. He says, ‘I hand draw the painting and text onto a white canvas and then mask the text off with tape so that it retains the vibrant white of the original canvas. Once the text is masked off and burnished down, the underpainting is started.

I always start with the fleshy elements such as face and hands as these are the life-blood of the painting. Once I’m satisfied with that, I move from the background forward. Once the painting is near completion, I peel away the tape to reveal the text. At this point I may touch up the painting or add glazes to improve vibrancy as the white of the letters sometimes overpowers certain areas. The letters are then cleaned up and finally varnished and the painting is pretty much complete.’

A painstaking process that shows up much of the meme art that replicates it, Shawn Huckins’ works brilliantly explore the scope of traditional oil painting for the benefit of the contemporary gaze. Shawn’s current series, ‘The American __tier’, explores the themes, styles and creative processes of 19th century American painting and photography with a healthy dose of 21st century lexicon thrown in for lols. His first solo exhibition featuring 15 works from the series opens tomorrow at Goodwin Fine Art, Denver.


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Words: Emily Beeson | @boogiemargaret