There was a business on SE Division in Portland, OR called Disaster Restoration. I never went there, but I lived nearby and painted wet scenes of Division Street. This was about 2008. I assume they cleaned up people’s disasters, like flooding, sewer backups, maybe even murders?
So, back in 2008 I had a big piece of plywood and began an evening painting of Division St. There were street lights, head lights, and in the top corner the Disaster Restoration sign. I titled the painting ‘Midnight Rider’ and added a cop car on the street. It never quite made it to being a fully-formed, stand-on-its-own painting though. Since then, I’ve moved studios, divorced, moved houses, and moved the unfinished ‘Midnight Rider’ panel.
July, 2018 found me alone in the studio. Confused about where to go. You see, I paint with different approaches. Sometimes old-school observation, large-scale studio street scenes, abstract color poems, and in the last few years paintings that merge realistic depiction with intuitive lines that delineate areas of color. Following my Muse is often a surprise and I have learned to follow her lead. However, it has led to a body of work where series and exhibits hold together, but they don’t develop on a straight path, one leading to the next. More of a spiral. Back in the studio, wondering where my next toe-hold will be, I am thinking about all things Trumpian and the eerie place our country, my country, is in. I also think about 1976 when Jimmy Carter was president. I was in 6th grade and was proud to design a t-shirt for my school, “The Flatiron’s Spirit of ’76”. I wondered about that and the feeling of pride I felt. What did being American mean anyway?
Meanwhile, in the backyard, there are Bachelor Buttons growing. I planted the blue variety because it is exactly what grew in the alley behind my childhood home. This is the first year I have them. Admiring them I think, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to paint them large’. A day or so later, I recall the old, battered plywood tucked away in my studio. I pull it out, pull it back into my consciousness you might say, and let it rest there for a few days. One evening, July 3rd, I lightly sand the old ‘Midnight Rider’ painting and clean it off with mineral spirits. I pick a few stalks of Bachelor Buttons and place them close to my easel. Then, I dive in. Large blue flowers on stiff stalks begin to take over the painting. It feels great. The next night I dive in again. I continue with the Bachelor Buttons and am loving the blue. I paint a large swath of red to contrast with the blue. Some hours later, I wipe away stripes of the red. Then the fireworks start. It turns out my neighborhood has a really fine show of illegal fireworks. “Stars!” I think. I pull down a bag of cookie-cutters. There are stars! Using these I stencil in stars. My pragmatic mind is warning me about the overuse of these symbols – stars and stripes – Jasper Johns! My muse fights back with a desire to own these images, to remake them, to express them in my way. The muse wins. I paint all night, occasionally going outside to watch the aerial displays (my neighbors take this shit seriously!). As the painting continues, I cover up more and more of the original ‘Midnight Rider’ image. I begin to paint over the Disaster Restoration sign. But something stops me. I pull back. ‘What do you want to be?’ I ask. Its clear, the sign stays. I’m painting with cadmium red from the tube and some beautiful cerulean blues. The painting magically comes together. All of these disparate pieces from different times joining forces in a kind of USA swan song, or perhaps, restoration song. Disaster Restoration became the name of the painting – and the beginning of the series I am currently working on.
I’ve also attached ‘Volunteer Tomato’ (oil on panel, 48″ x 24″) which rode in on the wake of the Disaster Restoration piece – and is also painted over an old painting.
Find Shawn here: www.shawndemarest.com