Interview with Artist Shawn Kuruneru

Sleeper Shawn Kuruneru

by Ella Delany

Canadian artist Shawn Kuruneru’s beautiful, intricate drawings have just been compiled into Women (a 38 page book, laser printed and perfect bound, published by Bsviv, Canada). Shawn’s work recently featured at the Drawing Center in New York, Battat Contemporary in Montreal and Night Gallery in Los Angles. He is currently working on a solo show at Ribordy Contemporary in Switzerland and Blackston Gallery in New York. Last year his drawings were acquired by the Montreal Contemporary Art Museum.

Amongst all these amazing shows, Shawn found time to share his thoughts on his new book, ballpoint pens, and Patrice O’Neal….

Congratulations on your new book! One of my favourite drawings is “The Sleeper.” What inspired this image? How does it fit with your more abstract drawings in the book?

The Sleeper is based on a 1950’s black and white photograph by Robert Frank from his series The Americans. I came across the photo by chance in a book store and at the time I was thinking a lot about figuration and colour. The dark mood of the image reminded me of my body of work I did during University in Montreal, Quebec in 2006. I wanted to explore certain surreal inclinations I had in the past with things in my immediate present.

I have drawn ‘The Sleeper’ a couple of times now, each one is a bit different in shape and size. The title changes because the ideas and images evolve. One of the new titles is ‘The Waiting Room’. I think of the figures waiting in anticipation for something unknown and now instead of sleeping they’re resting up to get ready for the shape of things to come. In a way this is my experience as a young emerging artist.

My abstract works are my way of boiling down drawing to understand its core. To me drawing is about origins. When you have an idea in your head you extract it by writing, sketching and scribbling it out. The first mark making gesture comes from  uncertainty and chance which is what I find most interesting and exciting in all art.
I use dot marks in the abstract works because it is the most basic form of mark making. When you have a group of dots you can connect them and find your own images and shapes.  The dot drawing series is entitled Virgin as way to discuss something new and unexplored while also insinuating a body-centric aspect to the work. The dot drawings have a reflective quality in them allowing each viewer to have their own personal experience. The figurative works would not exist without dots first.

How do the pictures in Women explore identity? It seems to be a theme that you’re coming at from different angles, with images of people, sculptures, and more abstract shapes?

I’m interested in concepts of self -identity that we look for in other people, ideas and art. I was thinking about origins a lot with my dot drawings and those ideas transmuted into my figurative works.  The first image in my book was inspired by Gustave Courbet’s 1887 painting The Origin of the World. The following pages are abstract drawings comprised of repetitive sweeping gestures that create an abstract cone-like shape which resembles a sonogram. The concept is that the sonogram image was my first portrait and since the late 1950’s for many people this is their first portrait as well.

The figurative images come from my formative years of drawing comics, listening to doo-wop and punk music, looking at art and thinking about women. There are a lot of things that I took from my teenage years that continue to influence me and this book functions as a a gateway into those thoughts and ideas. It’s my way to explore and understand identity.

What drew you to ballpoint pens, pencils and ink? Have you worked with other materials before?

I have been using ballpoint pen since I was a teenager from writing in notebooks to drawing on the bus. It has become my notion of textuality. The pen is a proletariat tool that has an intense ritual energy of communicating. We use pens everyday to write down ideas and to identify ourselves like when you sign your name on a letter. To me art is when you take two things with little value, a piece of paper and a pen, and you make a mark on it and it becomes something more then its intrinsic value. It becomes something special.

Does Women represent a new creative direction for you, or is it the culmination of themes?  Have other artists influenced your aesthetic?

The book is a new creative direction and a culmination of themes. The drawings span from 2007 to 2011.

I enjoy drawing and I tend to work intuitively. All of the drawings in the book were done in different places and time so each hold a certain history about myself.  I work instinctively so the themes and patterns  come after the fact.  I find that the excitement to make something is lost if you over think it and take too long.

There are a lot of artists that have influenced me and I reference some of them in the book. The cover is based on a 1900 sculpture by Auguste Rodin. I remember seeing photos of the sculpture in books and all the documentation was different depending on the lighting and angle. When I actually saw the sculpture in real life it was a whole different experience. It felt like an entirely different sculpture. I guess I was trying to contribute my own reinterpretation of the sculpture and how it continues to affect me. There are also references to films by Orson Wells, photos by Diane Arbus, G. P. Fieret and Man Ray, and musicians like The Ronettes, Elvis, and the fictional band The Fabulous Stains.

What’s it like starting a career in visual arts in NYC? Dead easy, right?

I imagine starting a career in the visual arts anywhere would be difficult.
It can be a lonely game when you strive towards a dream. This path is like a leap of faith. So I’m working towards my own ideas of what it means to be established.
But it’s also about having your beliefs and trying to build it into a life. The comedian Patrice O’Neal said it best: “I’m trying to be righteous.”


38 page collection of ball-point pen, ink and pencil drawings from 2007-2011
produced in an edition of 300 full-color throughout, 5 inches by 8 inches
laser print and perfect bound

Published by Bsviv, Montreal, Canada


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