Shawn Huckins has set out to explore the new American Frontier—the Internet. Using historical paintings and photography from the 19th Century, including images of Native Americans, Abraham Lincoln, and Civil War heroes, Huckins recreates classic works for the 21st Century. He transposes the language of Facebook, Twitter, and texting onto his replicated paintings, folding history upon itself in hilarious juxtapositions for a series called “The American __tier.”

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..and now for our exclusive interview with SHAWN HUCKINS

How would you describe your art?

My work is a mixture between art history and today’s modern digital language.  For my current series, The American __tier, I replicate 19th-century American paintings and photographs and superimpose letters (also painted) of current day texting acronyms, tweets, etc on top.  It offers up the conversation of where is our language headed in contrast to the more civilized, more intelligible language used in our founding days.  Although today the ability to communicate is only a button press away, the emotion and intelligence seems to have dissipated compared to centuries past.

How long have you been an artist and how did you become an artist?

I’ve been calling myself an artist for the past few years ever since I went solo and make my entire income from painting sales.  I’ve always had an interest in the arts since childhood, so it makes sense that I would someday become a professional artist.  I come from a long line of carpenters and woodworkers, so working with my hands is in my blood.

Pick one work of art from your portfolio and tell us the story behind it. Why does this piece have meaning to you? What steps did you take to create the piece?

The piece “Lighter Relieving A Steamboat Aground…” is one of my favorite pieces within this series.  It’s my first very large scale painting and it was challenging working at those dimensions.  Mainly because I work with acrylic paint which dries fairly fast compared to oils and the working time to blend large areas (such as sky) was difficult.  I do several steps with each painting, composing different layouts for the text, etc.  But with this large painting, I made extra steps to minimize the mistakes or ‘re-dos.’  Also, the story behind the original painting is fascinating.  In brief, the artist, George Caleb Bingham, ran for political office.  Part of his campaign was to clean the rivers and their shores.  He was run out by the opposing party and he painted this painting soon after his defeat with the steamboat in the distance than ran into trouble from the poor river conditions.

How do you make time for art?

I’m a full-time artist, so I have to make time.  I work regular hours as with any job and have a routine down that works best for me to maximize my production.  Before I made a living off my paintings, I would paint at night and on the weekends.  Sometimes it was difficult coming home from a long day and trying to muster the energy to paint at night.  But I had to think, if I don’t paint, I’ll have no paintings, and my art career won’t go anywhere.  Motivation and determination made the time for my work.

Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring artists?

Paint, paint and paint some more. Or whatever you do…draw, sculpt whenever you can.  You can only get good if you practice and have a drive for it. Study other artists and their techniques.  Ask questions.  It’s okay to sound dumb because other artists are thinking the same thing.  Stay motivated and determined.