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This classically trained painter is making powerful protest art

It’s “my direct response to our current administration’s policies and ethics surrounding a toxic and divisive country,” says painter Shawn Huckins.

It’s easy to see Shawn Huckins‘s series, Erasure, as a metaphor for what’s happening in America today. The classically trained painter’s pieces are painstaking recreations of iconic paintings from the American Revolution, which have have been defaced with Adobe Photoshop’s eraser tool.

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I asked Huckins if these paintings represent modern-day Americans erasing the revolutionary principles that the U.S. was founded upon. “Couldn’t have said better myself,” he responded over email. “The Erasure series is my direct response to our current administration’s policies and ethics surrounding a toxic and divisive country.”

Shawn Huckins [Photo: courtesy of the artist]

Huckins says that his paintings actually begin on the computer. After he selects a painting, he uses Photoshop’s eraser and mask tools to alter a high-resolution digital copy. “Sometimes, the erasure marks are thoughtfully laid out,” he says, “and sometimes they are completely gestural and organic.” In some cases, he even turned the image upside down and closed his eyes before erasing, giving the impression of true spontaneity and carelessness. Next, after composing several digital mock-ups, he chooses one and draws it on a canvas, carefully applying masking paper to save the erasure areas from the paint. “From here,” he says, “I will draft out the size of the grid used for the erasure pattern.” Finally, he uses tons of masking tape to achieve the precise grid of gray and white squares that Photoshop uses to indicates a transparent background.

He Said. She Said. She Said. (Julia Gardiner Tyler, White House Art Collection Erasure No. 18) (detail), 2018. [Image: Shawn Huckins]

The series represents the evolution of Huckins’s previous work, including Atheneum, a work that combined the slang and icons borrowed from today’s technology with classical paintings from the Revolutionary War era. The intent? To juxtapose symbols that may cause panic today–like a low battery symbol or a Wi-Fi icon with only one bar–with the values of the people portrayed in those portraits.. “I want to highlight how out of touch we can be, how [our fears] are so minuscule compared to what actually matters and has purpose,” he explains. “People back then fought for their families and to better generations ahead. It seems that, in today’s ‘selfie’ age, we are only focused on ourselves and the minor problems we have.”

Erasure grew from the same idea. But rather than focusing on the smallness of our digital lives, it underlines how we’re collectively blotting out centuries of work protecting democracy and humankind. If we aren’t careful, we won’t have any culture left to erase.

The series will debut in Huckins solo show Fool’s Gold at the Modernism gallery, 724 Ellis St, San Francisco, on July 11, closing on September 8.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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