Shawn McNulty’s paintings can be found in many different corners of the country — Bill Clinton and Vesse Ventura even own McNulty originals. Locally, McNulty was one of the founders of the Rosalux Gallery in Minneapolis, which has become a major part of the contemporary art scene in Minneapolis.
Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston
Secrets: Where are you from Shawn?
Shawn: I grew up in the suburbs of St. Paul, specifically Vadnais Heights and Oakdale. I attended St. John’s University and lived in Minneapolis after graduation. Now I live in Hopkins and have this studio at the Thorp Building in Northeast Minneapolis.
Secrets: How did you get started?
Shawn: I guess I’ve always been an artist. I remember drawing instead of taking naps in kindergarten. In high school, I had an exceptional art teacher that became very influential. I started doing non-objective painting on canvas, which can probably be considered an early precursor to what I’m doing now. In college, I focused more on computer based art, multimedia, and animation which helped considerably a few years later when I was creating my portfolio website. I started painting again the first year after college which happened pretty spontaneously. I was living in Uptown with many roommates and one of them moved out, so I started using the empty room as a studio. I did some large 4’ x 4’ canvases, and I’m still surprised I went for that size right out of the gate. I started exploring selling work over the web using my website as a virtual gallery which was still a very new concept in 1998, and it’s expanded to a much larger presence now.
Secrets: Tell me about the different chemicals and methods you use to create you work.
Shawn: I experimented with a lot of different texture mediums, and the one that I decided to use is pumice which has a rocky, coarse texture. This is typically applied on the first layer mixed with acrylic. Then the process continues with acrylic, always applying paint and mixing directly on the canvas. If I have any excess paint, it goes on the canvas of the next piece. Sometimes I apply layers over dry layers, and other times layers are applied over different states of partially dried layers. Oil paints don’t dry quickly enough for my process. I put the brushes away and have used large palette knives exclusively since around 2008. Thick layers of acrylic and pumice and are applied, scraped off, reapplied, sliced off, etc. There’s a technique I call “scuffling” which involves a repetitive chopping motion with the palette knife resulting in approximate parallel lines. I also sometimes peel the paint off of the palette knives and collage dried paint on to the canvas.
Secrets: What makes your paintings feel familiar?
Shawn: I use a lot of different colors but, I also tend to veer towards a certain type of each color for the end result. If it’s blue it’s either going to be a specific lighter blue or a specific darker blue. There’s a precise green I use by mixing different brands of acrylics. Anything goes during the early layers, but the final layer with be familiar. That first layer is never going to be the final version even if I think it’s done. Also, the specific texture I achieve through the pumice and application process is familiar.
Secrets: What tool could you not live without?
Shawn: Commercial grade palette knives; not the art supply store kind – the hardware store version.
Secrets: What is your soundtrack at the moment?
Shawn: I’ve been reabsorbing the Beatles catalog and bootlegs right now. I’ve always been a fan, and I tend to go through phases where I listen to them a lot or very little. I find the Lennon McCartney creative and personal relationship endlessly fascinating. Otherwise, I have a pretty broad music collection, and utilizing shuffle on my 160 gig iPod is usually interesting. The Current is one of the best things to happen to the Twin Cities in a long time. I’m enjoying the new Decemberists and Johnny Flynn album, which both receive airplay.
Secrets: What’s the best part about Minneapolis?
Shawn: I would say the culture. There’s an amazingly talented and supportive visual art, music, film, and theater community here that I think rivals anywhere else. My warm escape destination would be Austin, Texas, which is similar to Minneapolis in that sense. I do like the seasons, but I’d have to say I prefer a warm winter and a cool summer.
Secrets: What’s your favorite establishment?
Shawn: Rosalux Gallery is a cooperative art gallery that has housed a plethora of talented artists since we opened in 2002. I am one of the founding members and we recently moved to our third location in Northeast Minneapolis on 2nd St and 13th Avenue near Shuga Records and the 331 Club.
Secrets: Childhood dream career.
Shawn: One of the first things I really thought about doing was being a film director. In high school, I taught myself editing at White Bear’s public access station and aired films and shows on their channel. Today’s youth doesn’t know how easy they have it with their HD flipcams and iMovie.