In March, Shawn Vermette's exhibit, "The
First Viewing," took people completely off guard. Here was
an artist with zero social media or Internet presence showing
his work to the world for the first time. We offered the first
glimpse into a body of work which Shawn has been creating, away
from the modern world, for over thirty years. The response was
enthusiastic, though not surprising considering the scope, scale,
and beauty of the art itself. It took a bit of time, but we were
finally able to (with the help of technology and a good friend
in Massachusetts) pin Shawn down for a quick interview. He's
an intelligent, humble man who is quick to laugh, but seemingly
wary of going too deep into his thoughts publicly. We talk briefly
about his background and his approach to art
will provide a bit of insight into this incredible artist.
this year, Hyaena Gallery hosted the first ever solo art exhibit
of your work. It was quite successful for a first time showing
from a virtually unknown artist. As interest in the work increased,
people were also asking about the artist, himself. What would
you like people to know about you?
Shawn: Well, if it were up to me, the
less they know about me the better
that way they focus more
on the art than the person.
Hyaena: But people
always want to get deeper. I think knowing a bit about the artist
helps you understand where the art comes from. Tell me a little
about your background. How did you discover your love for art,
or that you even had artistic talent?
Shawn: Let's see...From a very young
age, I lived in a fantasy world. And that world led me directly
into the art world. My love for horror movies has had an impact
on my art.
Hyaena: I've heard
statements like that from several artists whose work I love (Mark
Bode, for example), where they could get lost in the art realms
they created instead of what was around them. Is that similar
for you? Is it therapeutic? Transformative?
Shawn: It was more of an escape when I was younger. Now I'm much
more interested in communicating.
Hyaena: I've painted
this picture of you as a sort of recluse. How accurate is that?
Shawn: It is very accurate. But it's also something that I didn't
want for myself, because I am also very gregarious.
Hyaena: How did it
come about? Was it self-imposed, or were there other factors?
Shawn: It was a combination of the two. My life style of culture
seemed to have an automatic way of separating me from people
my own age. My father had a Master's degree in fine art and my
mother was also very cultural. She was very into poetry and constantly
reading. This atmosphere of culture around the blue collar people
(of Springfield) did not always blend well.
Hyaena: The thing I'm
most often asked about, regarding you, is how you have managed
to go without the technology which is so prominent and connective
in today's world. No computer, no cell phone...how is this possible?
Shawn: First of all, the tech of today...as technology was evolving
was a repulsive thing to me, so it was natural to state away
from it. It was just a natural reflex action. And my whole family
felt like this, so we avoided it. The way I'm living now is a
necessity. I know no other way.
Hyaena: It certainly
makes communication more difficult in the modern era. Have you
ever felt like not being connected was ostracizing to you...or
a hindrance at all?
Shawn: Very much so, and that brings us back to your original
question where you asked if I am an introvert. I like talking
and being with people and this, not having a cell phone or computer,
makes a problem in my life
I feel disconnected. I don't
want to be disconnected, but I feel it's been thrust upon me
because I don't subscribe to the technology.
Hyaena: Do you feel
this is changing for you at all now?
Shawn: Not yet... heh heh. I have philosophical reasons, even
though it's been thrust upon me. When I see people looking at
their phones 24 hours a day, I'm reminded that tech has taken
us in a direction which is not an improvement in humanity.
Hyaena: Where did you
get your art education?
Shawn: Didn't have one...I am self taught with a little help
from my father. It comes mostly from looking at books and watching
Hyaena: Who/what were
your main influences?
Shawn: Horor movies...British horror films and earlier black
and white ones
Picture books from when I was a kid, like
"Where the Wild Things Are"
Fine art books that
my father collected. We had a library of our own at home. I didn't
really like public libraries, as I found the atmosphere a little
Hyaena: I definitely
see Sendek, Goya, Gorey, and Munch references in your work. What
I like so much about your art is that you can see influences
but the final piece transcends the influence.
Shawn: I want to say that you have a very good eye. That's actually
what I want people to see. I am a bit eclectic in my art. My
goal has always been to merge fine art with illustration. They
are not separate entities, they are one thing. They have always
been one thing. But certainly, I don't think I'm stating anything
new. It seems to me that people are too in the habit of categorizing
things. The springboard for me is symbolist art. Symbolist art
is one of the arts that has been swept under the rug by modern
art, but in it you find everything you could desire
storytelling and fine art all in one thing.
Hyaena: You mainly
work in ink and colored pencil. What makes you use these as opposed
to other traditional media?
Shawn: They're easier and less expensive. I've tried other media
when I was younger. Oil takes a long time to dry. Acrylic dries
fast, but I never obtained the level of professionalism and detail
from acrylic that I could from my pencils.
Hyaena: Nothing in
your work looks easy at all. Your use of colored pencil is astounding.
I've never seen anyone use the media quite like you do. Can you
talk a little about your technique?
I use Prismacolor pencil which is wax based.
It makes for easy mixing of colors. That said, I'm an emotional
person. I feel before I think. I put the pencil color down and
just mix it, and that's it.
Hyaena: Every time
I stand in front of one of your pieces, I am just in awe of the
work. You create so much texture and depth, it brings a real
life to the work that you don't see often. The colors, too, are
extremely vibrant and almost resemble paint until you get close
to the work.
Shawn: I notice how other people work with color pencil and they
are too tentative. When you work naturally like I do, the colors
come out more naturally in my pictures. The application of the
color itself is emotional but a lot of thinking goes into the
arrangement of the composition. I was never one for perspective,
so my perspective would be more surreal than real.
Hyaena: Can you walk
us through your creative process? Maybe talk about the steps
you go through to create one of your extremely large pieces?
Shawn: Well, first I have to have an idea, which can come from
a number of sources...movies, books. Today when I work on an
art piece it's because I want to communicate a message to the
world. So, I will then take various symbols from different sources
and put them together into one story. That's the first step.
The second step is the actual execution which is extremely annoying.
This has to do with the composition and if it doesn't work, you
have crap no matter how well intended the idea. Sometimes I will
find that a composition doesn't work and some of the symbols
need to be changed. Once I've determined the final composition
that I want, and symbols are in place, then I try to think of
a color scheme. Depending on the message, the colors can be bright
and playful, or dark and moody. Or, I might decide to do something
in black and white. After that it's all donkey work. I will complete
a small section entirely before moving on to the next area. So
when I'm finished it's a surprise as to how the final picture
Hyaena: Do you go through
a process of studies before tackling the large work?
Shawn: I don't do a lot of thumbnails. I might draw a rough drawing,
9x12, regular pencil, just to get a feel for the composition.
If I'm satisfied I'll move on to the larger picture.
Hyaena: And how long
does this take, normally, to complete one of the larger pieces?
Shawn: Roughly three months or so. It depends on how depressed
I am and how many interruptions I have
Hyaena: The artwork
that you've created...what were your intentions as far as sharing
it with others?
Shawn: I can't say this for all the pieces in your show, but
some have more important social messages. Some are more decorative
and emotional. The ones such as "High Society," obviously
I intended to communicate something more definitive.
Hyaena: And how did
you find Hyaena? Most people don't know that we've actually known
each other for a very long time...but you said you didn't know
I had an art gallery?
Shawn: It was out of necessity. My neighbor found your gallery
on his computer.
Hyaena: I still don't
quite understand that. Do you realize how random that is?
Shawn: Yes. heh heh
Hyaena: Do you know
what he searched for?
Shawn: He was looking at galleries in general, stuff that would
show off weird art. Your name came up and I took it from there.
Hyaena: I just think
it's incredible that you recognized me and wrote me that letter.
It was the first hand written letter I've received in years.
Shawn: This brings us to one of our first questions about the
lack of humanity in the world, where something totally natural,
like a letter, has become unnatural.
Hyaena: It's crazy,
but it's what we've become. We've just had, what I would say
is, a very successful solo exhibit here...your first. What are
your thought on the exhibit and the overall reaction from folks?
Shawn: I'm excited about the response, and the enthusiasm from
everyone. When you go into something like this for the first
time you never know what to expect. I am very happy about the
whole experience, especially seeing the work reach a larger audience.
Hyaena: You've been
exposed a bit more to the Internet now. What is your impression
of social media and the Internet as a resource?
Shawn: As a resource, I suppose the benefits cannot be denied.
But as you know, I am between two worlds. You can say it's hard
for me to put into words. In terms of business, I appreciate
the way that computers make things a lot easier. But talking
about technology on a more universal note, I have to say that
it's led us down a very dark road.
Hyaena: What are you
working on now and what can we hope to see from you in the future?
Shawn: Right now, I'm working on my own comic book and a children's
book with Michael Kelleher. The comic book has been an ongoing
project for many years, and is an attempt to discuss much the
philosophy as we've touched upon in this interview. Also, hopefully,
there will be some prints of my larger work available soon.
I just want to say "thank you"
to everybody for paying attention to me, I guess.