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Cleveland Artist Spotlights
Visual artist, storyteller and filmmaker, Shaun Doyle, has piqued the interest of Instagram followers with his quirky and curious shadow box assemblages. These self-contained worlds, composed primarily of modern-day refuse and pop culture ephemera, don’t appear overtly nostalgic. But upon closer inspection, one finds themselves trying to decode vaguely familiar objects and icons in an unfamiliar environment; like trying to bring into focus a fuzzy childhood memory, when prompted by a toy or place or smell. By manipulating the components of each assemblage in a way that appears both playful and calculated, Shaun seems to find magic and mystery in the physical world. The works hint at re-accessing a child-like innocence and wonder; one foot in the realm of make-believe and one foot in reality. Keep an eye out for his assemblage works this summer, and stay tuned for a screening of his feature-length film, The Last Fireplace.
Q. Briefly describe your work.
A. I make shadow box assemblages using a wide range of materials. Each box is a self-contained space with a glass front. My work has to do with society’s lost relationship with physical things and the subsequent effect that detachment has on our ability to see and experience the world around us. The content is then filtered through my own idiosyncratic mid-western sensibilities, which have to do with everything from American pop culture to personal and specific trips abroad to folk mythologies and magical incantations. But my work is simultaneously playful and fun. The most well-known precursor to The Form itself is the artist Joseph Cornell. But Joseph Cornell never did this.
Q. Elaborate a little more on the statement, “Joseph Cornell never did this.” What do you mean by this? What’s different about your work from Cornell’s?
A. I was being a little tongue in cheek, but my work is different in that first, it deals with this time period in American History both technologically and culturally and is effected by the cultural debris that is around me in my life and in my growing up in Northeast Ohio. Second, my specific influences related to my up bringing, my family, my favorite music, my favorite movies etc., are simply quite different from Joseph Cornell's. Those influences add to my own life as an artist and can't help but to show up in my assemblages even if it’s in ways not obvious. The form is of course, his and I certainly embrace it and use it to explore my boundaries and sustain a certain continuity with his legacy while developing my own language. Third, I develop my own language and I try to keep expanding it. I think Joseph Cornell was a true individual and now we live in a time divided into tribes and there is a lot of group-think happening on both sides. I believe in the sovereignty of the individual and the sovereignty of the individual artist.
Q. How were you introduced to your craft?
A. I at first followed my nose. The creative aura led me away from painting and drawing and into a more physical object realm. In this realm, after a few years I was able to develop my own language with the assemblages and gain better access to specific visions.
Q. What is it about the assemblage format or object collecting that you feel drawn to?
A. I like this form in part because the inside of the box is a specific sacred space. It’s well defined and enclosed and the operating within that space gives me a certain mysterious energy. Within the box, I can focus and build and I know its parameters. I can feel the specific energy in that specific space. I can hold it and feel its insides. I like that. Also, it’s a basic geometric shape and that helps with composition. There is a deliberate symmetry built in to the final assemblage, due in part to the square or rectangular shape of the box. Of course a big part of my aesthetic is the physicality, the objects and using my hands and small tools to assemble and glue but ultimately each work is a picture--a unified, composition--not really a scene and definitely not a diorama--but a specific vision contained within the box.
Q. What is your process for generating new ideas?
A. Ideas come from my life which includes everything from travelling abroad, to interacting with people on the streets of Cleveland or New York or anywhere, to going for a walk in the woods before a storm, to hearing a new glam rock band, to dreaming at night, to navigating the avalanche of information that inundates us every day in this day and age. Living life is process. To quote the poet, William Carlos Williams, “No ideas but in things.”
Q. Would you describe your creative process, with these assemblages in particular, as more spontaneous or calculated?
A. The initial vision or even glimpse of a vision seems spontaneous in the exact moment it arrives in my head but really it comes from lots of sources some of which are just the incomprehensible wonderful mysteries of art and life. The process of actually assembling and gluing itself is totally calculated and meticulous. It has to be. But the overall creative process which permeates before, during and after and includes time where I am sitting quietly at my work desk doing nothing other than putting myself in an open and creatively interested frame of mind, is always informed by spontaneous energies.
Q. What’s your idea of artistic success?
A. On the one hand the act itself once it’s completed is a success. In other words the act of creation IS success. That’s all that’s needed. On the other hand, success would be reaching a point where my art work would allow me to be financially independent enough to devote my day to day routine on working on my assemblages or other art projects; without the disruptions of a day job.
Q. How do you feel your work affects your audience? (and/or) How do you want your work to affect your audience?
A. I would like them to be in such awe of what they see that they will think they have been transported to a new vibrant universe where familiar symbols and mysterious combinations and feelings merge into a ball of majestic euphoria and insight and love, where reawakened visions pour forth like the urgent passions of an erupting volcano. Or at the very least it would be nice if they would be curious and stick around to take a deeper look and maybe not check their i-Phones for a minute or two and even perhaps realize on some rudimentary level that there is a difference between a digital image and a physical work of art and maybe see that the picture itself is interesting as a whole. But I'll settle for overhearing someone who glanced at one of my assemblages saying, "Oh that's cool."
Q. Can you talk about some of the other projects you’re working on currently?
A. Yes! The other big project I'm working on is trying to finish a super low budget film that friends and I (and some strangers) have been working on for almost two years. It's a feature length movie called The Last Fireplace. It's a sort of charming post-apocalyptic story, eccentric and weird. My brother is cinematographer (we used his nice camera and lights) and co-editor along with my cousin. I wrote and directed it. I also put up an ad on craigslist to find actors or people that had always wanted to act that would work for food and transportation and I ended up gathering a really great group of people of all ages. One of the stars is an 8-year-old little boy. We're almost finished with the editing and so we hope to have a local premier in August. It has been a real labor of love but it’s taken much longer than I ever hoped for due in large part to having no real budget and people having day jobs. So, my summer days and nights will be dominated by my assemblages and work on our film.
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