Briefly describe the work you do.
I make slowly built up and layered paintings. I’m concerned with time, color, composition, oscillations, memory, history, aggregated parts. I’m trying to make work that has an internal logic – that creates it’s own rules and signals and that can turn in on itself. I’m still figuring this out… but the latest work has been an exploration in painting crumbling monuments. There is something interesting to me in making a monument of a monument of a temporal past.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I was a weirdo kid, only child, home-schooled, grew up in a bible belt bubble, my family moved cities and states often. Because of this bubble I would constantly draw, make, or build things and explore outside any time I could.
When that bubble broke I wanted to do something in the sciences because it was so fascinating, mysterious, and new to me. Ultimately, I didn’t have the educational foundation for it. When I stumbled into art that same sort of wonder and curiosity that I loved in science immediately grabbed me.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I like the idea of a studio practice being both field research and a laboratory. Realize that I resisted saying saying something about the ‘outside world’ and instead chose ‘field research,’ that should indicate that I’m a studio rat.
Balance with in-studio and real-life is so important and that balance always changes. When things get stale – or I get that tunnel vision, I go outside, clear my mind, take a week off, explore something new, it’s really the curiosity that lead me to the studio in the first place.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art.
Curator, designer, illustrator, educator – these are all roles that have become important to my practice. I’m not any one of those things – but I never envisioned myself thinking that I would take on any of those roles as an ‘fine artist.’ Also, I have taken on the role of an OCD person and art is to blame.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I have to keep a very strict studio schedule. I have a full time job, a website to maintain, cats to yell at, and my studio space is in my home – I could very easily become distracted.
I think The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp really left an impression on me. Keep a routine, keep a sort of schedule, turn off your phone, do what you need to do to get into that flow state. Like I said before, I really believe the days you’re not in your studio are just as important.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
In many ways it’s stayed the same. I’ll probably never be the kind of artist who makes a show to carry out one statement, and then a year later a different show and a different statement. Thats not a sexy answer, but I’m prone to evolutions, and I became interested in ‘my language’ right around the beginning of that five year mark.
I do think that the language has become more diverse – I’m beginning to understand my own lexicon a bit more – and I’m pushing the boundaries of what I have used in the past.
A couple of years ago I was unable to work in the studio on any regular basis, so instead I worked on video, drawing, and collage and that work really informed how I think about my pieces now. The work now feels more static, I think of compositions as setting stages, they became (personally) more biographical, more abstracted, ultimately they’re more fun.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Douglas Hofstadter books have made a lasting impact on my interests. There are tons of other examples of peers whom I can talk shop with, I’m always listening to audiobooks in the studio, but recently… I’ve been on a big math rock kick. I loved that stuff as a teen but coming back to it with new perspective made me really appreciate what many of those artist were striving for. The layering of rhythms, the mechanical and calculated trajectory of their music couldn’t help but highlight the visceral humanity behind it all. I might be reaching here – but it made me think about time and how we build our monuments, what we strive for, and how that just can’t escape our hand.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
My escapist fantasy is to start a goat farm on a deserted plot of northwestern seaside land. Which is to say my dream pursuits are about as practical as being an artist.
Besides an original interest in science, education is something that has always interested me. I have my questions about pedagogy, but I love working with people. I love long distance hiking – I would do that. Or give me Anthony Bourdain’s job (not the cooking part).
Russell Shoemaker received his BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute. Before completing his MFA at the University of Connecticut, Shoemaker began his MFA at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. In between he spent a year at the Charlotte Street Foundation’s Urban Culture Project residency. Shoemaker has exhibited nationally in both solo and group shows.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.