Monday, August 22nd, 2011 | 33 Comments
Severed snake tails, speech bubble constellations, and troubadour birds populate the alchemical dreams of UK-based artist Nick Sheehy.
Through strange geometries
and intricate crosshatching,
Nick Sheehy’s drawings describe worlds of mystery and wonder. A sense of theatricality pervades the scenes in which the subjects are also the storytellers.
S&TM: Given how often the character appears in your works, we thought we needed to ask: is the chicken your spirit animal?
Nick Sheehy: Ha ha. Um… No. Truth is I have no more connection with chickens than any other animal. Showchicken was a name I gave my website when I used to draw obese chickens many moons ago. It seemed fitting at the time, but there was no plan of the name sticking. Now the obese chickens are in the past and I draw other stuff.
To me, the name ‘showchicken’ has taken on the same sort of meaning as a brand name … the individual words no longer retain their meaning and it has just become a sound.
I don’t really see my characters as chickens. They are mostly birds, but not usually from a specific family.
S&TM: We’ve been trying to decode some of the recurring motifs in your paintings: severed snake tails, speech bubbles in the forms of constellations, nodes or molecules. Without giving too much away, would you discuss what some of these mean to you?
Nick Sheehy: I don’t think I’m interested in singular or explicit meanings. I like uncertainty, and shades of grey. I also think that the meaning interpreted by the viewer is just as interesting as the one intended by the creator. I tend to just draw without thinking too much and I try to draw scenes I have never seen before.
Most of the visual elements you see come from my personal experiences. I draw a lot of birds and snakes, because that’s what was around me as I grew up in Australia. I like drawing guitars because I play guitar and my dad kept giving them to me as birthday presents.
The costumes are probably inspired by my girlfriend’s quilting. I draw wooden structures when I am making things out of wood (for the garden for instance) and I draw lots of plants when new growth is all around in Spring.
When you group these objects together over the space of a few works, you can start to build up colonies and worlds of varying weirdness where new narratives and mythologies start to evolve and everyday objects start to take on magical qualities.
S&TM: There’s a certain amount of pageantry going on in your images: characters in costume, carrying instruments, marching in parade formation. We often feel like we’re not seeing the real story, but characters putting on a play. Is this what’s being referred to in the name “Showchicken”?
Nick Sheehy: That’s an interesting take on it. I guess I do like a sense of theater. Like you are watching an unscripted performance. At the risk of sounding too deep that’s kind of what the work is about, all the performances and rituals that we go through as we live life: following rules and laws, sacrificing to the gods, exchanging goods for currency, meeting people, hunting for food, encountering hierarchy, dealing with other customs. I suppose it’s a mutant anthropomorphism in play.
I always feel my work has a sense of alienation and un-comfortableness to it, all wrapped up in a slightly banal hallucination. Which is sometimes how I view life. To me, things like going to the dentist, getting on a bus, speaking to a person on the phone halfway around the world to sort out your broadband, are typical and mundane activities and yet sometimes they can seem like the weirdest things in the world to do.
S&TM: We’ve been loving the new sketches posted on your Flickr page. Can you describe some of your approach to exploring new ideas/directions in your work?
Nick Sheehy: It all stems from the fact that I felt that what I have been drawing was starting to feel like it had plateaued. I was starting to feel limited by what I was drawing and how I was drawing it. Many of my drawings have usually involved some element of planning. The cross-hatching technique can be tedious enough as it is… but if you then introduce planning and layout into the mix… you’re setting yourself up for a slow way of making work.
The new sketches are where I have set rules for myself: no birds, no snakes, no planning, etc in the attempt to free myself from what I thought was holding me back. Most of my favourite artists work involves high levels of ‘winging-it’ and it’s exactly this that I wanted to be able to do. Basically I just wanted to make more fluid work, quicker.
I’ve also found over the years that working in a naive style had made me become a lazy drawer. So through my latest drawings I’ve tried to become more observant, and more technically aware of what I was drawing.
S&TM: Given the opportunity, what would be a “dream project” for you?
Nick Sheehy: I’ve already worked on a few “dream” projects that ended up being the opposite. But I would like to work on a book or a comic. That’s going to have to take some planning and I have no idea what sort of book it would be.
I generally enjoy projects where the brief is just to do what you want. I find creating for media that isn’t paper is enough for your brain to start working differently. Even if you aren’t given much direction.
Oh yeah, and my dream job as a kid was to design album covers. Up to now, this still hasn’t happened. I used to be into heavy metal and the associated imagery… not sure if there many metal bands out there in the market for birds in suits strumming weirdo lutes.
S&TM: We want to extend a huge thanks to Nick for taking the time to do this interview and for being a constant source of inspiration. We wish you all the best in your future projects.
All images © 2011 Nick Sheehy.