Skeptic: Shawn Huckins Balances Super Modernity and a Distant Past in New Paintings
Denver-based painter Shawn Huckins is best-known for his striking fusion of technical skill and satirical wit. His most notable collections to date, ‘The American Revolution Revolution’ and ‘The American ___tier,' asked whether the devolution of language in the face of technological advancement has weakened our ability to empathize and connect. By layering early American portraiture and landscape with text messages lifted directly from the Internet, he juxtaposed the priorities of modern society with those of simpler times.
Thanks to these foundational dichotomies, Huckins evokes a sense of inquiry that's as confounding as it is humorous. What would George Washington post via Twitter? How many followers would Lewis and Clark generate as they track their progress on Instagram? Satirical in spirit perhaps, but each work is rendered with the skill of an absolute master. Everything is flawlessly hand-painted, including the letters. All portraits, landscapes, and pastoral scenes are sourced from public domain records and museum collections of classic American paintings.
With his new exhibit, Skeptic, on view at Stephanie Chefas Projects in Portland through November 14, 2020, Huckins focuses on America's relationship with the past and how that affects our current place in the world. Digging deep into what makes a society thrive—and what makes it collapse—each work challenges the idea of learning from history's previous mistakes. Huckins employs Roman sculpture as a preemptive warning of a failed society and disembodied hands as a metaphor for the past's manipulative hold over the present. These foreboding symbols are set against a backdrop of 18th-century American painting tradition, contrasting our nation's birth with its current chaos. Viewers are left to ponder the implications. Are we immune to societal destruction and extinction or is history bound to repeat itself?