Interview with Andrew Shears by Rebecca Brantley
R.B.: Where and when were born? Briefly describe your personal journey to New York.
A.S.: I was born on August 13, 1990 in Boulder, Colorado. After high school I studied journalism at the University of Colorado. I had plans to be a creative in the ad world, which sounded like the least terrible option when it came to getting a "real" job. Then, during the summer before my senior year, I spent some time with an artist friend Dalva Duarte at her studio in southern France. During this time I felt inspired and at home in a cultural that seemed less money-driven and more passion-driven than where I came from. Realizing that I had been fighting the urge to make art and that it was possible to make a living doing what you love, I returned home and dropped out of school. New York seemed to be the center of the art world and it felt like the only place to go to follow my vocation so, after building a small portfolio, I applied to Pratt Institute. I worked at an art store for a year, saved up and then moved to Brooklyn. At the time it felt like [New York] was calling me—the buildings, graffiti, history, art, everything.
R.B.: Where do you work? Describe your studio practice.
A.S.: I spent the last year studying at Grand Central Atelier, drawing from a live model five days a week. By night and on weekends I work on personal work in my loft in Bushwick, usually taking a break from the human figure and focusing more on drawing and painting objects. My practice usually involves working from life but occasionally working from photographs while trying to focus on the experience of actually being with the person or object. (In other words, when working from a photograph, I don't want to simply copy the photograph. I want the original experience to be my main source.)
I try never to force a concept or have much of an agenda when beginning a project. I like to let things happen naturally. So, I usually wait for people, objects, spaces to catch my attention and evoke a strong emotion in me before beginning to study that thing. For me, every picture begins with a feeling. Once I have that feeling, I begin to make sketches or drawings of that thing until I feel that I have gained an understanding as to why the subject caught my attention. A project may start and end with a sketch or become a series of drawings that lead to a painting. I only know when it's done based on a feeling of having gotten to really know the subject and understanding why I responded so strongly to it. To a large degree, my process is an attempt to become more in touch with the physical world—beauty.
I've always been very sensitive to visuals and my environment—hypersensitive, I think. So, the space I work in is very important to me. My studio is filled with old, weathered materials: paint-covered ladders, rusty tea kettles, beat up picture frames, disintegrating animal skulls. I like to live with these types of objects and wait for them to call out to me.
R.B.: How did your experience at Pratt shape your artistic career?
A.S.: More than anything, studying at Pratt taught me what it means to be an artist and provided an environment for me to discover my own voice. I was taught to think critically about art in general and especially my own work for the first time. Although there was little to no technical training (something that my artistic vision requires), it was a great experience in that it exposed me to so much. Hearing stories of the old New York and past artistic movements as well as being surrounded my other types of art and design majors are two things that stand out.
R.B.: Are there any key art historical influences on your practice?
A.S.: Old Masters [are influential]. Andrew Wyeth and Antonio Lopez Garcia are my two biggest influences. [Others include] Winslow Homer, Anselm Kiefer, Minimalism, and late 19th century photography.
R.B.: You have described your work in relation to your rejection of technology. Can you expand upon this idea?
A.S.: I am completely uninterested in social media, online dating, etc. I think our obsession with technology and social media distract us from what it means to be human. I have no interest in making didactic art concerning this issue, however, drawing and painting objects and people from life is my way of trying to become more in touch with my physical world and the way I respond to it. I hope that exposing viewers to this type of imagery (my experience of something beautiful) results in them actually looking at and appreciating things that they otherwise might have ignored or overlooked- an old door, an aging concrete wall, etc.
R.B.: Can you describe the major themes your work for Lineage addresses.
A.S.: I think my contribution to Lineage has to do with trying to get back in touch with what it means to be human in a way. it's not about my personal lineage but the human species' lineage and what makes us unique. I'm interested in questions like "why did I have such an intense reaction to a sunset?" or "why is that chair more attractive to me than the other one?"
Why do humans have a unique relationship with beauty? I'm nostalgic of time when people were less obsessed with technology, less self aware, and therefore more in touch with themselves and the world around them. For me, the first step in getting back to this way of being is to get to know the world around me through drawing and painting.