Lee Shiney – paintings

“You go with what you know. I’ll accept the fact that some artists can spew forth images like they are locked in time as a child where the creativity hasn’t been stifled, yet. Or musicians where melody churns in their brains constantly. Well, somehow I manage to visualize convection currents and pressure differentials instead. Science is what intrigues me more than what other artists did and do. I think I am shaped by a mix of Mark Rothko and Kenneth Noland and Kenneth Snelson and Rube Goldberg. My contribution is something like physics or fluid dynamics turned into an image.”

Lee Shiney, a self-taught artist from Kechi, Kansas, lets technology intertwine in the creative process. His production techniques use turntables, cam drives, and other handmade devices to manipulate paint and move canvas and board. Making the devices that make his art is an integral part of his entire creative process. His is the art of making a machine making art. “I had cancer, which to me translates as ‘Life is too short.’ I didn’t want to muster up the patience in my early drip paintings, to perch Michelangelo-style on a scaffold with the paint dripping from overhead. So, I speed things up by using tools. It’s applying a bit of objectivity to a usually subjective, if not sacred, process. And ultimately, part is about knocking art off its high horse. ”

Lee works in traditional media, but also uses discarded pallets, primitive motors, old power cables, and mismatched or returned paints from the big super stores. “It is a challenge to sometimes work on a near-zero budget and transmogrify someone else’s cast-offs into something that is hopefully kicked a couple of notches back up the food chain.” Lee’s studio looks like a laboratory. Strange, handmade yet evidently smart machines, without producing a sound, are producing paintings. They turn boards and canvasses around in different patterns; paint is squirted out of tubes in delicately set and varying thickness. Lee watches the process and adjusts “the controls” or changes paint colors and squirt force any time he believes he has reached what image he had in mind before starting, or any time during the process he detects a better road to travel. The machines listen carefully to his directions; in a way the process is similar to what robots do when directed to make a computer board or cut out a complicated pattern in steel. “These things of mine are like robots. But my high tech experiments with computer-driven parts generally fail me. I like things simple. See, these arms are parts of pallet lumber cut to size. Practically everything we buy arrives on a shipping pallet; so it arguably should replace the eagle as a national symbol, don’t you think? These here are skateboard wheels. All hardware, all elements are simple and can be made and assembled in any garage. The simpler my constructions and devices are, the more I recycle or repurpose, the better I feel.”

Lee keeps exploring and experimenting with new mediums and equipment, such as loose canvas, tarps, instead of stretched canvas. “If art is about experimentation and breaking rules, then why should I be confined to rigid rectangles?” asks Lee. “Portability is an essential quality of tapestries, of Gobelins. Le Corbusier called them ‘nomadic murals’. They made artwork portable for kings-on-the-go and doubled as insulation in cold and wintry castles. Present-day tarps are the utilitarian cousins of tapestries. They got the job of covering and protecting once they were water-proofed to last forever.”

But what else than mechanics drives his art? Lee Shiney: “In Genesis 5 we can find a repetitive, archaic use of ‘begat’. In that chapter a visual picture is painted of the continuum of family history stretching over time. I contemplate this, because in my studio one painting process begets another. There’s a logical sequence of revelations in the process of art making, of trial and error, of cause and effect. Everything is interrelated and yields what I do as an artist. I grew up in rural Kansas. I drove tractors and combines and gazed at the horizon that was everywhere. There was time to think under that big sky. Going around and around and around, is all part of that history. My works are that four-way intersection of looking ahead and looking back, balancing the tangible and intangible. It’s a grounding process.”

In many of Lee’s paintings the land, the prairie, shows up in unmistakable forms – waving grasses, crop circles, the Kansas skyline—“so dominating and rarely hidden.” Lee in his ongoing project ‘105 Horizons’ is revisiting his roots by exploring the landscapes of each county in the state. “It is a process of traveling, observing, documenting and interpreting through art making; and of listening quietly to what the land is saying. These fresh experiences are interwoven with my own Kansas background. It is appropriate that the search for visual inspiration brings me back to basics and back to my own history. Back to where I belong.”