Wednesday, February 02, 2005 | Mollee Francisco Staff Writer
Savvy art house bargain hunters were in for a real treat when Shawn McNulty first decided to put his work on the market. He listed some pieces on Ebay in 1998, and watched his relatively low starting prices skyrocket in a bidding frenzy. The paintings hanging at McNulty's current show at the Chaska Community Center start at $500.
McNulty's decision to start selling his work was just one of many spontaneous moments that have filled his relatively short career as a professional painter. "There was no grand scheme to be a painter," said 29-year-old McNulty. "It was a spontaneous decision."
The St. Paul native became interested in art as a freshman in high school. "I was a creative person needing someone to tell me where to go," said McNulty. He found that someone in Richard Doolittle, an art teacher at Tartan High School in Oakdale. While other teachers had encouraged him to continue working in the areas that he excelled, like drawing, Doolittle challenged McNulty to challenge himself and broaden his skill set. McNulty did just that. He attended St. John's University near St. Cloud and majored in psychology. "I didn't really paint in college at all," said McNulty. He did dabble in other areas of art, however, including watercolor, multimedia, animation and Web design.
After college, he got into Web design just as the Internet was taking off. When that fizzled, McNulty made a sudden decision to start painting again. "I like how painting on canvas feels," said McNulty. "I like thick paint. I like bold lines. I like the idea of being spontaneous."
For McNulty, art imitates life. He does not plan his paintings. In fact, he scoffs at the very idea of it. "I would lose interest in planning," said McNulty.
Instead, McNulty begins each new painting as he is finishing his last. "I mix my colors right on the canvas," said McNulty, "so that provides the base for each painting." "There is no plan to it whatsoever," said McNulty. "I throw shapes randomly onto the canvas and when it starts to show itself, I nurture it."
Each piece takes McNulty 8-12 hours to complete. He works in 2-3 hour blocks, coming back to the piece daily until he is satisfied enough to declare it finished. In some cases, that can mean up to six layers of paint.
McNulty's non-objective abstract art is characterized by his use of vivid color. Though his show is entitled "Abstract Textures" the casual observer is far more likely to be drawn to the brilliant colors that punctuate the gallery's white space rather than the rough patches of painted pumice stone or the pieces of corrugated cardboard glued onto the canvases.
"I've always been pretty colorful," said McNulty. If it is possible to be too colorful, McNulty may have already gone there and back. It was a piece entitled "Advantageous" that proved to be McNulty's breaking point with color. Overflowing with rich blues, greens, yellows, reds, and purples, McNulty took one hard look at the piece and made a point to start including more neutral colors. While his newer work still showcases bright colors, it also employs large sections of white and beige and in some cases, bare canvas. "I found that the neutrals make the bright colors more effective," said McNulty.
While color undoubtedly
dominates McNulty's work, his exploration of texture has enlivened both
the work and the artist. McNulty's newest pieces are sprinkled with
the tangible: pumice
bubbling beneath a layer of paint, a twig from Hudson, Wis. bisecting the canvas, even bits of dried paint are peeled from the brush and glued onto the face of the work. "I never waste paint," explained McNulty.
The items McNulty
adds to his pieces, like everything else, are
unplanned. "I like to find it, rather than seek it," explained McNulty.
"When it falls in your lap, it feels more natural."
Since he began in 1998, McNulty estimates that he has completed 250-300
pieces. His patron list includes such notables as former President Bill
Clinton and former Gov. Jesse Ventura. Of his completed works, McNulty
is proud to say that he only has 15 pieces left in his possession.
having an old piece come back," said McNulty. "They're like
old roommates that you really don't want to see anymore."