A CONVERSATION WITH SHAMUS CLISSET ON THE OCCASION OF WOANDER,
CURATED BY COREY OBERLANDER AND LINDSEY STAPLETON
GRIN - How would you describe your relationship with nature? Is this something you often consider? Does living in a city affect this relationship?
Shamus Clisset- My family is from Brooklyn and Long Island, but my parents were big hippies and moved us out to Colorado when I was young. We spent a lot of time in the mountains growing up, even lived in a teepee for a summer. But, like a lot of kids, my trajectory was to go opposite to anything my parents had done. The hippy, back-to-nature stuff embarrassed me for a long time. I'm not embarrassed anymore (usually), but I did end up in New York and not on a commune.
What I've become fascinated by as a result of all that, however, is our modern relationship to nature, especially as Americans, and in light of how real wilderness has been practically removed from our daily lives. Working in 3D, one of my first realizations was to treat digital space as an empty new world, an unexplored frontier - but one that is more internal (a projected mental space), so a lot of imagery from my childhood in the mountains began to filter in. But along with that came a lot of detritus from the suburban wasteland that's replaced what was once here. I think my parents' fleeing Long Island for the Rockies was a very natural reaction. But there is a scariness to both extremes - the rawness of nature vs. the emptiness of what's left after it's been paved over - and that is pretty central to what I'm making.
G- Would you mind providing some background information about the works in Woander? Where do these ideas germinate, and why have they held your attention?
SC- Mostly the images spread out as tangents from what came before. A lot of the objects, ideas, and compositions get reused, recycled or transformed from one picture to the next. And their meanings transform along with the context. The "Grizzly Chair", for example, is tied to one of the first images in the series, depicting FakeShamus wearing (or inhabiting) the full body of a defeated Grizzly bear. And the figure in "Keeping America Clean" is an offshoot of an earlier composition of a deconstructed camouflaged creature embedded in a dense video game like environment (hence, I called him "Mr. Realistic" in contrast to the abstraction of the previous picture). But everything is also generally informed by things I see or remember. I spend a lot of time researching images of objects I want to build in 3D and that tends to present me with a lot of imagery from many different sources that I otherwise would not encounter. Google images and Tumblr are goldmines of the most random imagery you can imagine, and that tends to be what drives me forward.
G- Do you find that materials inform your work? Is it the other way around? Or is it in constant motion?
SC- Mostly, with digital materials, I am concerned with the level of reality perceived in the image. For many objects, I just want the materials to be convincing enough. I want the space and things to be believable, but I'm not always interested in fully photo-realistic materials because that defeats the purpose for me. I don't want surfaces to be glaringly digital either, so I tend to avoid the digital trick of making some ordinary object appear like it's made of some weird material. It's a balancing act and hitting that in-between space of real and fake is what I'm most interested in.
GRIN- Based on the objective output, your process seems in some ways, decided. Would you mind providing some additional insight into the compositions of your images?
SC- A lot of times the compositions start from a single object in my head. I go to work modeling it in the computer and as the process unfolds other elements jump into my head and it builds from there. As mentioned above, a lot of times the composition I'm working on sparks whatever follows, or at least some element of it becomes the basis for the next one through some sort of transformation. But the compositions almost always go through dozens of variations as I add or remove elements, change the environments and lighting, and virtual camera angle. So what you see in the final version is really just one possible outcome of many. It is decided in that I choose to call a certain version of the picture "done" but I also like the idea that each variation could live on as an alternate reality to all of the others.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Shamus Clisset lives and works in Hell’s Kitchen, NY. FakeShamus is a sort of imaginary-friend character who lives and explores these alternate realities - a digital golem wreaking havoc on everything around him. He morphs from scene to scene, melding with objects of my own mental obsessions and personal history: the Lamborghini Countach that I drew compulsively as a kid; the nature and suburban landscapes of my upbringing in Colorado; Bazooka subwoofers that I lusted after even before I owned a car to put them in; the aesthetics of beer, guns and violence.