By Sierra Akana
Shelby Shadwell’s exhibit “Comedie” at the College of Southern Nevada attempts to explore his greatest fears.
Shadwell is an unusual artist who transforms canvasses with charcoal drawings and installations that magnify bugs, such as 500 cockroaches in his pieces “Auniversal Picture 16” and “Auniversal Picture 18,” to help the audience see the beauty in otherwise grotesque things.
Fears are the center stones of his creations.
His artwork “Comedie 3” is a look at a tarantula. This piece was inspired from his childhood when a spider fell at his feet as he turned on the shower. It scared him so bad that he became obsessed with checking the faucet, shower and toilet each time before he used them. “You have an experience and then the human mind creates these scenarios. The power of the mind to exaggerate or amplify fear and anxiety can lead to a lot of irrational decisions.”
Shadwell hosted a talk at CSN on March 30 for students, faculty and art collectors. He spoke on his process and content of his pieces. The hour-long talk to approximately 50 attendees including students in art-appreciation classes enjoyed the presentation.
“Shadwell’s work has a lot of detail, but it’s the combination of detail and scale that makes his work really impressive,” said CSN’s Fine Arts Gallery Coordinator Jeff Fulmer. “Take a cockroach and blow it up a thousand times with full detail and that’s impressive. Do that with hundreds of cockroaches and it’s breathtaking.”
“Part of the reason why I go into such meticulousness and detail is that people automatically can value it based on the time they know went into it,” Shadwell said. “They don’t automatically dismiss it.”
“His technique was gorgeous and very realistic,” said Christa Solomon, CSN student who attended the gallery talk. “There was a lot of passion behind it. The detail was fantastic. It feels like you can reach in and touch it. He really gives it his all.”
Shadwell uses his interest in horror films and dark genres to fuel his creativity. “I liked to draw a lot of science fiction, dungeons and dragons, comic books and things like that,” Shadwell said.
Shadwell describes his process of creating artwork as transformative and meditative. “Sometimes there is a painful aspect to it but I don’t remember that after it is made,” Shadwell said.
Another theme Shadwell explored in his art exhibit is his fears of fatherhood. He is a father to a 3 year old and he and his wife have a baby on the way. He openly expressed that he is nervous about raising his kids.
“I think I was always afraid of messing up my kid before I was a dad,” Shadwell said. “I was like oh God, I’m going to mess this kid up like my parents messed me up but I look at myself and I’m like maybe I needed that trauma to fight against.”
The art pieces “Comedie 2,” “Auniversal Picture 15” and “Auniversal Picture 17” are of diapers. Some show dozens of diapers clustered together. These pieces give a view of what’s on his mind, especially preparing for his new baby.
Shadwell found an outlet for his fears by creating art throughout his life.
Shadwell became an artist in high school. He was inspired by a teacher that encouraged him to puruse it in college. He later became an associate professor at University of Wyoming where he currently teaches drawing.
“I want to spread that motivation through the world and pay it forward for all those aspiring artists,” Shadwell said.
Shadwell’s exhibit is on display at the Fine Arts Gallery till May 28.