Shawn Pettersen

Artist's Statement


My work is not a study of cute animals. Quite the opposite, since most of the wildlife who are employed are either sly scavengers or massive, formidable creatures. Each brings its individual antiquities to my imagery. A phantomous shark of the deep who leaves only teeth behind as evidence of its existence. The coyote with its long and sordid memoir in the American landscape, where he is both indigenous and reviled. The buffalo with its marriage to both the romantic vision of a now long lost, untamed country and the confrontation of its appaling over-hunting and near extinction. Theses animals' backstories and biologies can then be seen as indicative of the themes of fleeing, displacement and adaptation which lay at the bedrock of my interests. My recent work also includes imagery of NASA's space program. Preparatory drawings and photo documentation of the development of the Space Shuttle from the 1970's and subsequent imagery of the Challenger accident are both stark disruptions in our shared journey to another frontier (last century's wild west), as well as a painful, personal turning point for an artist who's six year old eyes watched a symbol of american promise and potential tear into a billowing pillar of white smoke and heavy debris.

Much of my work deliberately eschews references to other contemporary visual modes such as the internet, mass advertising and fashion. I take their omnipresence as a given at this point and choose to skirt the discussion of their intentions and social ramifications. Instead, I prefer to present an alternative versed in a more remote tense; something prodding at the romantic, tragic, antiquated and occasionally silly. I mingle references to natural disasters, geological history, biblical stories, and American biography and myth in order to pose a very specific sense of loss and longing. In doing so I hope to suggest the relationship between that epic yet detached historical loss and confusing, personal, contemporary displacement. The bridge between these disparate psychological spaces is where the thrust of my work resides. By disassembling taxidermy mannequins, fitting them with other bits of imagery, then upholstering the cobbled forms in a variety of fabrics, I'm trying to offer an elegant, yet humble, solution to their mangled histories; a kind of futile consolidation or reparation to a saga that I never personally participated in, yet inescapably feel attached to. I see the work as a shifting series of small allegories or parables with no moral lessons or solutions. My animals are never offered a consolidated account of their disheveled chronicles or even the solace of a new home. This is our shared, unresolved music and these are the saddest songs I know.