Shane McAdams is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn, NY
In the most general sense, my work is about landscape. I grew up with the desert southwest as a backdrop and was visually taken by its sculpted topography; how the layered strata of the rock formations came to be exposed by erosion from wind and water, and how the incremental and chaotic effects of time and climate could conspire to create something more orderly than I could with my hands.
My first drawings were tracings from road atlases that I collaged into fantasy political maps with fictionalized places. The maps thus began to function (though I didn’t see it in these terms at the time) metaphorically as well as spatially, as traces of passing time as well as unfolding space. Likewise, I saw the sandstone towers in the desert as maps of time, recording millions of years of wind erosion that just happened to look like modern art. Since, my art has resumed a focus on mapping and landscape, reflecting the dueling relationships between the natural and the man-made, the temporal and spatial and the objective and the subjective.
Like the stratified rock on the Navajo reservation, where I spent much of my childhood, the forms in my work are often analogs to the methods of their creation. They take root in the physical properties inherent within specific, mundane materials such as Elmer’s glue, correction fluid, ballpoint pen ink and resin, whose limits are stretched by subjecting them to non-traditional applications, generating structures whose complexity belies the elegance of their creation. This process reflects the physical forces that are constantly working to fashion and sculpt the natural landscape, and, by bracketing these forms with hand-rendered and conventionalized images, I hope to evoke the duality between the actual and the artificial as it is conveyed through idealized representations of order and beauty.
1. What interests motivate and inform your work?
Most generally I am interested in competing traditions of landscape painting. I like to look at the histories and practices from different angles. Within these traditions I am interested in the relationship between landscape, nature and the more abstract ideas of what makes something ‘natural’ or ‘artificial’. For instance, I grew up looking at Hudson River School painters like Frederick Church and John Kensett, believing they were the pinnacle of ‘realism’, not realizing that what they were painting was artificial from many different perspectives. Beyond the obvious fact that their fantastic vistas were often concocted in the studio, the very notion of framing a natural scene has an artificiality to it. Like Errol Morris has said, one creates fiction merely by choosing to point a camera in one direction and not another. I’m not against this notion; that’s what artists are supposed to do: curate reality. Still I don’t pretend to be a complete relativist about notions of ‘truth’ and ‘fiction’. I think visually interrogating different perspectives on landscape and realism is fertile territory for art, at least for my own art.
2. Who influenced or still influences your work? Whose work do you admire?
I split my influences between traditional landscape painters, process abstractionists and curious natural phenomena and material exploration. I’ve fallen for the work of James Perry Wilson lately. He’s a renowned diaroama painter, best known for his work at the Natural History Museum in New York. Also artists like Roland Flexner, Emil Lukas and Bernard Frize. I think the artist James Hyde does a great job of bringing together some of the issues I’m exploring. Outside of art, I like looking for new kinds of ballpoint pen, resins, cracks in sidewalks, stains on walls, bubbles in soup, runs in panty hose, and the like.
3. What’s a recent exhibit you went to which stood out, or who would you recommend seeing?
Tauba Auerbach’s show at Paula Cooper was endgame territory for me. She deals with similar issues in her work, and does it so well it just makes my jaw go slack. Seeing her work for me must be like how a young writer might feel after reading James Joyce or David Foster Wallace. It’s humbling yet still humane enough to inspire one to keep making art.