Shawn McNulty wasn’t one for naptime in kindergarten – he just couldn’t sleep with all those crayons laying around.
Now 32, married and slightly more stubbled, he still enjoys working while most slumber.
Though he has graduated from Crayola on copy paper to acrylic on canvas, his boyish passion for his art remains strong.
McNulty described himself as a contemporary painter of new abstract expressionistic paintings.
Like Mark Rothko and Hans Hoffman, the abstract expressionists that inspire him, McNulty has a style all his own.
In creating his layered and colorful geometric paintings, heavy with texture and occasional collage, McNulty works like his iPod plays – randomly.
“I could never pre-plan anything, because I’d be bored with it,” said McNulty.
So, like an improvisational actor or hip-hop rhymesayer, McNulty freestyles.
“The first layers are absolutely spontaneous, and it’s really just grabbing paint and putting it down. Then it’s about looking at it after it dries and saying, ‘OK, this part works, this part does not work,’ and then changing the part that does not work,” said McNulty.
From that impromptu opening McNulty may add multiple layers and end with a work that offers little mention of that initial burst, but he said it’s always there.
“Every piece I’ve done there’s at least one aspect of the first layer that comes through,” said McNulty.
In his finished works, he said people see defined structures like urban landscapes in the colorful combinations of shapes.
McNulty said he avoids structure, so he finds it interesting that people look to find everyday objects on his canvas.
Though McNulty’s work isn’t representational, he does understand the more traditional rules of form and composition.
When he attended Tartan High School in St. Paul, McNulty gained experience working in realism.
But it took a trusted Tartan art teacher named Richard Doolittle to convince McNulty to look critically at process and to start breaking the rules down.
In the years since, McNulty has experimented in other mediums, such as pop-art. Each time he said it forced him to break down what he was doing to its simplest form and allow spontaneity to push through.
“I’m getting closer and closer to what I want to be doing, and the goal is to keep moving forward,” said McNulty.
But without a beautiful model to interpret or a weeping willow to consider, he said he is inspired by the potential of a new piece.
“Once I create a new piece, it really seems to take life- like I’ve created something and then push it out into the world,” he said.
For his current exhibit at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, showing until Dec. 2, McNulty didn’t have to push his creations too far.
He will only need to brave two blocks to check in on his show at the well-windowed center, which he said looks great at night.
“It’s very cool,” said McNulty. – Sol Lieberman