The Subjective Nepotist: Shanna Waddel

April 1, 2014 |

The Subjective Nepotist is a bi-weekly column where I am going to write about the art/artists that move me. It is in no way attempting to be objective or democratic, but it will be thoughtful and hopefully direct. I don’t think I am alone in saying that I am deeply moved by my friends’ artwork. Nor do I think it is a stretch to think that this is a factor in why I am friends with these people.  I am writing this preface as a way of absolving myself of any journalistic responsibilities because I am not a journalist, I am an artist. I am going to do my best to convey what excites me and why it does so. And don’t worry- I have a lot of friends and am always making more. -Dustin Metz


Untitled (Kurt Cobain) 2013. collage

Imaginations are usually based or at least birthed via reality- like when you are daydreaming your mental wanderings jump off from solid ground to the fantastical. Maybe it’s what surrounds you at the moment, or a news story, or some kernel of pop culture you’ve been rolling around in your head- What would Kurt Cobain look like as a fairy/nymph? How do you think Susan Atkins sees herself right now? What does Satan see when he looks at Nude Descending A Staircase? Holy shit- WHAT IF HEAVEN’S GATE WAS RIGHT!?! Shanna Waddell wonders theses things aloud- and then onto a canvas.

Death Bed (Heaven's Gate).2012.Oil and Acrylic on Canvas

Yes, all of these daydreams and rabbit holes are pretty grim, but you wouldn’t know it when you look at Shanna’s paintings. She is taking these subjects, deemed ‘heavy’ in tone by the media, and has fun with them. Well, maybe fun is the wrong word- because art and death and religion are serious stuff. But then again, fun seems to be the perfect word. These paintings revel in material exploration, (paint, glitter, wrapping paper, etc.), while simultaneously unleashing a wild imagination to run amok with the subject’s logic. And that does sound sort of fun! Shanna does this by embracing the possibilities that paint allows her to invent and depict the impossible.

Susan Atkins As Angel (Susan Atkins)2013. oil, gift warp, spray paint, paper, canvas on cloth

When I look at Shanna’s paintings I am usually both smiling and hitting myself upside the head, thinking “Of course! You can do whatever you want to whatever you want in a painting!” It’s one thing to make up a painterly logic inside a decidedly abstract painting, it’s a whole other can of worms to depict an interaction between recognizable images and abstract ideas. And what’s most exciting about this is the sense that the artist herself doesn’t know what this interaction would look like until she is in the painting!

The paintings are built as you look at them, shapes appear and dissolve just as quickly as you find them. At her last show (“Misshapen Chaos of Well-seeming Forms” @Thomas Erben Gallery 2/17/11-3/19/11) I wrote the following in a sketch book planning to send it to Shanna in an email that was never actualized:

The form is not dictated or held back by the subject matter- hands are hinted at but not drilled into being, this give room to what a “hand” can be or rather the shape of the hand is now another space (yet it still retains the integrity of both ‘hand’ and ‘window’). This permission of use of form/content allows the paintings to take a life of their own – they forcefully dictate their presence and give you the rules in which to view them, rules that may not be verbal or even literal but maybe visually guttural.

Untitled (Prince of the Air) 2010. oil on canvas

Sometimes forms just need to come into being.

The paintings Shanna has made since that show are similar in their forceful dictation of presence but have smoothed out any hesitation of the viewer by well earned confidence. Confidence in Shanna’s case does not have the pacification effect that has plagued many artists before her, but rather acts as a turbo boost past dilly-dallying uncertainty into the stratosphere of the unknown.

See more of Shanna’s work here. Dustin Metz is an artist currently living and working in Los Angeles, see his work here.

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