Shaun C. Whiteside is influenced by abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell. His paintings offer rich veils of color, such as deep purples, warm browns, and cool grays. Whiteside applies his acrylic paint with great control in forming the layers of colorful splashes, and at the same time lets the paint assume a character of its own. Whiteside has shown his work internationally and is the recipient of the 2011-2012 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts fellowship. Shaun C. Whiteside's work is part of the current Transmutation exhibition. Transmutation will run from September 10-October 29, 2016 at the Linda Matney Gallery. Whiteside will give a gallery talk at the closing reception on October 29th. The Linda Matney Gallery is open Wednesday-Saturday, 10:30am-12pm, 2-5pm, and by appointment. The following is a December 2015 interview with Shaun C. Whiteside by John Lee Matney.
JLM: What artists have inspired you and what else has influenced your practice?
SW: While thematically I have much in common with the Romantic artists (depicting themes of inhumanity, cruelty, and the sublime), I relate more to the Abstract Expressionist style that reduces painting to its most basic elements. I found much of my early inspiration in the writings of Mark Rothko once I discovered we had a similar tendency to convey the tragic. I was also more recently influenced a great deal by the writings of Robert Motherwell when I began exploring the lineage from Dada to Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism. In my own work I had already been experimenting with unpredictable forces like the movement of pigment through water, and only later discovered this concept of "chance" was an undercurrent throughout these previous movements. While this unpredictable quality already existed in my work before exploring Motherwell's writings, my reading of his works has since inspired me to incorporate more of a spontaneous automatism in several pieces as well. My working method reflects my belief in a natural order that is superior to the absurd inequality that often results from human order. The philosophy of Determinism also influences my work, which is why I don't really believe that anything, no matter how unpredictable, can really be categorized as "chance."
JLM: Comment on your technique and subject matter.
SW: I see it as my duty as an artist to render invisible qualities as visible. I depict the emotional or metaphysical realm using physical forces like gravity, water erosion, and sedimentation. In my paintings I use several thin glazes of paint, often partially washed away or diluted with more water, to create vaporous or liquid environments. I use the visual forms that develop to depict emotional forces and energies that are unseen but very real powers in the world. I create works on paper with India ink that reflect the same themes, although the technique is slightly different. In the case of the ink works, there is often only one or two layers, but gravity and the movement of water are still the primary creative elements.
JLM: Comment on your use of color in your works.
SW: The colors in my earlier work used to be more saturated and high in contrast in comparison the with blacks that often permeate the compositions. I found that people too often responded only to the luminous color, however, and came to regard intense coloration as almost a cheap trick designed to sucker the viewer into emotionally responding to the work. Because I wanted my viewers to notice form, and not just color, my palette became much more muted and earthy. This also has the effect of making the imagery seem less "fake," because, although the work is non-representational and not meant to reflect optical reality, I still want to suggest to the viewer that what I am depicting is still quite real and natural. This is also why I moved toward more organic forms that are created by natural forces. My colors lately have become quite dark and muted, reflecting my increasing pessimism and my dwindling hope and energy to protest the current social order.
JLM: Comment on the pieces in the Transitory Identifications exhibit.
SW: The pieces I included in this exhibit are small studies intended to help me develop techniques that I may employ in future, larger paintings. Motherwell's writings have also encouraged me to engage in greater experimentation, and I've often found that I am most excited by my work when it can surprise me. The rag study is an adaptation of a technique used by Surrealists in which paint was applied using soaked rags. My version is subtractive, however, meaning that I repeatedly created a layer of paint which was then partially removed by dropping wet rags onto the surface, resulting in unpredictable textures and shapes. In the spatial study, I again created layer after layer of paint, each time creating an even wash over the entire surface, but then re-saturating it with water. The shapes are the result of sedimentation after the pigment had been suspended in the water, then re-deposited as the water evaporated. The third study I submitted is not so much an experiment in technique as it is an exploration of a concept I intend to explore further. I have been incorporating vertical black bands at irregular intervals in many recent works, but these are much more regular and hard-edged to convey a sense of inflexibility. This is juxtaposed with the more organic forms being squeezed between them. Whereas such forms often have a more energetic, splashing form in my other works, these forms are shown as less forceful and vacillating only slightly, like the flicker of a candle flame instead of a raging inferno. Because of the nature of the process, these forms still seem more significant in proportion than is my ultimate intention. I would like to create a much larger version where these organic forms will still be shown at about the same scale, making them much smaller in proportion to the darker, hard-edged shapes.
JLM: Comment on your body of works over the years
SW :My work has reflected somber themes from the beginning, although my techniques have changed. I once employed thick impasto textures to give the work a more visceral quality, but have abandoned that along with the vivid colors. Today all the texture in my work is implied, while the surface itself is entirely smooth. This helps underscore that the viewer is not looking at something physical, but rather metaphysical. By minimizing evidence of my own hand in the work, I am also creating something that is beyond the Self, and hopefully, therefore, more universal. Additionally this adds a further degree of isolation between myself and the viewer, again helping to reinforce some of the themes in my work. Currently much of my work shows my intense pessimism as I reflect on the current slow implosion our country.
JLM:. Linda Matney Gallery has begun to work more with real estate agencies staging houses and we also do some corporate exhibits. I know you work large- Do you take commissions?
SW: I do take commissions as long as I am free to work within my own style and subject matter. I would of course submit a variety of designs for the commissioner's approval, but I wouldn't be inclined, for instance, to start painting portraits.