KHFA exhibition archives

Parables of Mayhem

Shaun Roberts
March 11—April 22, 2023
Opening reception Saturday, March 11 from 5:00-7:00 pm
Artist will be in attendance

Statement by the artist

Blood Ash Venom, 2023, oil on canvas, 72" x 60"

Parables of Mayhem, featuring self-portraits and narratives, brings together some twenty works produced over the past six years. Themes of pandemonium, desperation, and the enduring human spirit with its capacity for redemption are found throughout all the paintings. Time and place are unmoored, conjuring a post-industrial society, perhaps depicting another era or universe altogether. My paintings are influenced by allegory, and the universal human condition. They attempt to unearth and understand mysteries and terrors about ourselves. Self-portraiture is one way of exploring this. By placing myself in the settings and situations, imagining myself as the character day after day, and looking in the mirror struggling with the work, I hope to connect with the viewer and bring a genuine expression that can resonate today as we, too, are in uncertain times.

I look to classical and contemporary sources alike. I recognize something beneath the surface level stories in 17th-century genre painters like Frans Hals or Adriaen Brouwer. The characters' expressions turn mysterious, mischievous, or even melancholy if you look into their eyes. I like to imagine what struggles they are dealing with in their lives. How can I relate to or learn from them today?

In contemporary sources such as Corneliu Baba or Odd Nerdrum, I am interested in how the artists take from a fountain of art history. I see influences of both Millet and Soutine in Baba's works. Nerdrum pulls from his Viking heritage with figures in a primitive setting painted in a late Rembrandt style mixing modern objects ranging from rifles to wheelchairs, unhinging time altogether.

What is interesting to me, regardless of setting or circumstance, are the interactions of the characters and how a kind of community exists and supports one another even when things seem to be falling apart. How they endure. I see this in their eyes and expressions. These qualities resonated so strongly that I felt compelled to apply for and was awarded a two-month residency to work alongside Nerdrum at his studio in Norway. Nerdrum showed me how to strive in a painting, balancing multiple layers of psychology that will keep the viewer's attention. The light behind the eyes. According to Nerdrum, the character must appear to breathe and think in a good painting. There should be more than just one story or interpretation; every paint stroke should look like a scar.

Today, storytelling is more relevant than ever. As a society, we have become self-absorbed in digital worlds where media has replaced meaningful relationships, detached us from, and distorted our realities, destroying our empathy for one another. Engaging the paintings in Parables of Mayhem is like watching our fate snap back at us like a boomerang. The works dig to the core of fraught ambivalence. By underscoring the simultaneity of time and experience in our divisive world, they capture the perils of today's news while at the same time painting unsettling portraits of what may lie down the road. Beneath every act of degradation or violence, there pulses a vein of grace, a redemptive potential yearning to be tapped.

Shaun Roberts received his BFA in painting from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2010 and earned his MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Washington in 2012. Upon graduation from the University of Washington, Shaun was awarded the Joan Mitchel Foundation Grant for graduating MFA students. He was recently awarded a residency to work alongside painter Odd Nerdrum in Norway for over two months. Shaun is currently an associate professor of art at Stephen F. Austin State University and painting area coordinator. Shaun has been in several group and solo exhibitions spanning over 20 states, including First Street Gallery, NY, Southern Mississippi Museum of Art, Eastern Kentucky University, and the Gadsden Museum of Art, AL.

No Man's Land, 2021, oil on canvas, 24" x 20"
At Midnight, 2020, oil on canvas, 60" x 50"