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contemporary american artist Gabriel Shaffer

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::: artist interview

"I would say, if you want to make art, grow sharp teeth, don't pull punches, throw yourself over the edge, develop a thick skin, guard your hope and protect innocence with a ferocious defense."
Gabriel Shaffer

American expressionist artist American Visionary Artist

Gabriel Shaffer

Gabriel Shaffer Artist Interview - July 2006

+1 ::: Why are you an artist Gabriel?

That's one of the questions I investigate everytime Iwork. Its not really easy to answer simply, because Ithink it takes on many explanations depending on where the artist is in their life and where they have come from. I suppose I am an artist by necessity, I really cant imagine doing or being anything else. I create as a means of coping with external forces I feel I need to either understand or confront through a tangible medium. In simpler terms, I need to exorcise certain things from my body through my mind, the surface is where I place these things through a personal dialogue. It's a cathartic healing process and simultaneously a blind journey.

+2 ::: Could you tell us some more about your paintings?

Currently they are Mixed Media/Collage paintings on canvas. I incorporate a lot of paperwork salvaged from various sources, such as abandoned buildings, hospitals, factories, houses, dumpsters, flea markets and any other means I might come upon them. I am fascinated by where I find these materials and I feel it gives them an extra power when I reincarnate them through the paintings. Previous to painting, I was a writer, poet and performance artist for over 15 years. I feel a very strong bond with storytelling as a means of expressing a narrative based from personal experience (dreams,visions, hallucinations, etc.). In addition to large narratives, I create breeds and mutations of characters, through portraits of varying proportion and size. This gives me an opportunity to have a direct line of conversation with each character as an individual. I also am fascinated by cityscapes, which are created from collage. I usually paint flocks of flying houses above them.
I work many layers of stains , graffiti and primitive free association underneath my paintings, to create a patchwork or living circuit of information and form. This is the cauldron from which I draw my stories.

+3 ::: Have you been to art school, and do you think it's important for an artist?

No, I haven't been to art school, I barely graduated high school. I was raised inside the self-taught genre, throughout my entire life. My mom is Cher Shaffer, a well known folk/visionary artist who is credited as being a pioneer in the American self taught movement. She has been painting and sculpting for over 30 years and supporting herself since the early 80's. So, I was always taught it was something to avoid. I don't think art school is a bad idea. It just depends on the individual and what terms they want to approach their work with.

+4 ::: What artists have influenced you, and how?

Wow, I suppose the best way to answer, is by starting with my earliest influences, who are probably the strongest. Its hard to separate my first learnings of art from my mom, since I spent so much time looking at her books and talking to her as she would paint. Picasso was always a major force in my life. My mom taught me to look at him with the same regard that some folks look at a messiah. I also have memory of being really excited by Basquiat when I was young. I loved him and his paintings, because as a child I could identify with the imagery. I called him "Basket Head" and imagined he was stuffed with straw like the scarecrow from the "Wizard of OZ" I had a lot of fun butchering the pronunciation of his name. My mom was also a really big fan of Miro, Dali and of course Dubuffet, whom she worshiped almost as much as Picasso, but I wasn't quite as fond of him in childhood years.
I also have a vivid memory of Howard Finster, but coming from a folk art background he probably goes without saying. Besides dozens of painters whom I admire, I also appreciate a few comic book Illustrators and writers, such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore. I have always been a comic book geek, since they helped me survive my early teens. I am also a huge fan of certain literary figures such as Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, HP LoveCraft, James Joyce, Philp K Dick, William Burroughs, Hunter Thompson, and JG Ballard. Fiction is another major source of inspiration. I am also heavily influenced by CG Jung and Jospeh Campbell, their writings have helped me to understand the labyrinth every artist wanders through. I suppose its also unavoidable to site the influence folks like Jim Henson, George Lucas and Stephen Speilberg had on my generation.
I cant even begin to say how big of an impact music has upon me. I'm never working without music. I have been absorbing the works of different artists through out my life so, its really a long list, 30 something odd years of influences.

+5 ::: What other interests do you have (besides painting)?

Right now, not many. I read a lot. I enjoy watching films at night when I'm decompressing. I try to spend as much free time as I can with my amazing fiancé and our two pets. I'm not quite as exciting as I used to be. I'm really happy to be living in Asheville, which is the most supportive, naturally beautiful and open minded arts cities I have ever lived in. I probably spend 60 something odd hours, six to seven days a week alone, painting. I've been supporting myself from it for over a year now, so I don't get much free time.

+6 ::: What inspires you to paint and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?

I have had various extreme experiences and visions throughout my life, that have shaped and motivated quite a bit of the reasoning behind my work. I suppose one of the major motivators for me comes from the opinion that mankind is on the verge of a conspired apocalyptic reckoning. I don't believe the world is going to end, but I have forseen the deaths of many people and the installation of a dystopian government, orchestrated by an evil secret cult in the years to come. I have witnessed natural disasters, wars, assassinations, alien influence and conspiracy, while working and dreaming. Everytime I creatively work through my hands or sleep, I see things with my eyes. The feeling that the Bush administration is an alien spider headed demon spawned and set out like a mad puppet to initiate the world into burning annihilation and eternal suffering, tends to be a good motivator to keep making art. I believe that artists are healers. Everytime an artist finishes a work they care for, evil loses a small piece of its power. We live in a lost time, so it is every artists responsibility to contribute their own piece to the light, that will hopefully someday dawn upon the human race.

+7 ::: How have you handled the business side of being an artist?

Very carefully. I have some close folks who give me really good advice and help look out for me. I suppose the main thing I try to avoid is being taken advantage of, which happens quite often in the art business.

+8 ::: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Either helping to rebuild a small settlement of apocalypse survivors, somewhere in the Appalachian mountains or creating art. I cant predict what kind of art, because it seems to be developing at its own pace. I would like to think I would still be able to support me and my family from it.

+9 ::: Could you talk about your latest series of paintings and what you are trying to achieve with them?

I am currently working on three works, A cityscape/flying house, a Mummy, with multiple heads and eyes and a large narrative that portrays a mesmerist standing with his hand extended over the head of a hypnotized victim. At this point, I'm trying to just not screw them up. They are at a delicate phase. I want to make them stronger each time so that the paintings can have a telepathic dialogue with the viewer. The stories really shouldn't be told to you, they should have mystery. I prefer that each viewer looks at my paintings without an explanation of their meaning. This gives the viewer the opportunity to make up their own mind as to what the work is about. Usually, I learn a lot from hearing those ideas.

+10 ::: What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

I've answered this question to other artists in the past by telling them to quit. But I guess that's a bit harsh. I would say, if you want to make art, grow sharp teeth, don't pull punches, throw yourself over the edge, develop a thick skin, guard your hope and protect innocence with a ferocious defense.

More artist information can be found at the website of the artist.. Gabriel Shaffer
View more artist interviews at here.. Artist Interviews

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