Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Interview: Rusty Shackleford

Born in Montgomery, AL in 1978, Rusty Shackleford creates vibrant hybrid images that merge the oozing materiality of painting with the crisp flatness of digital media. His work is represented by Cindy Rucker Gallery in NYC, and has been reviewed in Modern Painters, Beautiful Decay, Flavorpill, NewCity and Art F City. He has been a resident at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Vermont Studio Center and Harold Arts.  He’s also the primary caregiver for his young daughter, Margot. While men and women increasingly share the work of parenting, the assumption persists that it will be mothers - not fathers - whose careers will be reconfigured as their partners return to work. This is not the case in Rusty's family: over the past two years his artistic practice has been shaped in part by the unpredictable time-space of intensive fatherhood, and we're very lucky to have him share his perspectives here. Keep an eye out for his recent projects in two upcoming exhibitions at the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art and at Glass Curtain Gallery, both in Chicago.

Cultural ReProducers: To start, tell us a little bit about your daughter.

Margot Rae Shackleford is a little over 2 years old. She is curious and hilarious. Open and accepting. Empathetic and fearless. She likes to jump off of things and dance. I have been her primary caregiver since she was 3 months old.

Cultural ReProducers: How have you found a workable balance between your artistic work and raising Margot? Any strategies you’d recommend to other artists in the same boat?

Well, honestly, I’m not sure that I have. I think I’ve just chosen to accept that things will always be evolving, and disorder is just the name of the game. I don’t take a lot for granted and when I get the chance to be in studio I try to be as efficient as possible. Every time I think I have some kind of structure nailed down something explodes in my face… whether if it’s by my own doing or life just giving me the finger.

Practically speaking, however, we hired a nanny for two mornings a week. This was really crucial and it allowed me to build a fairly consistent schedule. I would set up tasks that I could accomplish in a single sitting by focusing on making a specific number of images. I would just plow through them and try not to make judgements about the work until a couple of sessions afterward. I let the images sit and marinate and would edit them down later.

top: work in progress
bottom: Floating Orange (installation view)
image courtesy of SideCar Gallery
The problem was that this didn't leave a lot of room for play, which is super frustrating for me. This is something I am still working out. The nanny situation ended and we are now in the process of relocating the homestead to North Carolina. So as it goes, things are ever changing and I’m gonna roll with it and see what it brings.

If I could recommend anything, it would be to cut yourself some slack and don’t have expectations. Children have
their own personalities that you are going to have to adapt to. Try to be nimble and don’t burn it at both ends. Get rest and understand that it’s a process that takes time to figure out. Most likely you will feel a little crazy and that ol’ art guilt will set in. Most of the artist/parents that I know passed through some kind of darkness. It’s normal. Ride it out, keep swinging, and know that this is gonna make you a stronger artist in the end.

CR: Who have been your models for artist-parenting / parent-artisting?

There are so many! I think I associate more with artists who have kids than artists who don’t! Justin Witte and Olivia Schreiner, Heather Mekkelson, Selina Trepp, Craig Yu, and Cole Pierce. If I had to name a few who had an impact on me it would be these. It has been encouraging watching these artists deal with the challenges of parenting and making art. Everyone responds to it differently, but one solid characteristic that seems to connect them all is that everyone seems relentless. Just soldiers. Art is hard enough as is but making art and having kids puts another level on it. I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to glean information from their battles. We didn’t get to hang out a lot, but when we did I always walked away feeling recharged and a little wiser. Parenting can be isolating, and sometimes friends and colleagues drop away. Having a solid community to fall back on is really necessary, even if it's for short periods of time. 

 CR: Beyond time-management, has parenthood impacted your creative practice or the processes you employ in any unexpected ways? If so, how?

Not specifically. However, even though this might sound a little cliche, I absolutely love watching children draw. There is such a positive energy in their mark making. It really is pure. We have this chalkboard that Margot draws on and she just goes to town. Sometimes I’m really envious. It’s really made me want to draw more. To just let go and make marks. I’m hoping after I get through this move and the next couple of shows I can make some time for this. In the meantime though I’m really just enjoying watching Margot draw.

CR: How has fatherhood affected your own relationship with the art world and/or career? What kinds of barriers or expectations have you encountered that need to be addressed?

Rusty: Fatherhood has slowed me down a lot, in a positive way. There is a demand for presence and structure that has resonated well with me. It didn’t happen overnight and on occasion I fought it tooth and nail, but once I started to fully embrace it I found that a lot of the noise that was rummaging around in me started to subside. I am more aware of what I need to maximize my creativity now that
Margot is in my life. And also I’m just not as concerned with proving my creative abilities to everyone anymore. I have begun let go of strict notions of success, which I feel are terribly destructive to my creative process and spirit. I take more comfort in knowing that art is bigger than me and that I am in this for the long haul. So I have been focusing more on where art fits into this larger formula for my entire being.

work in progress
Also, detours have pretty much been a constant in my life. I have gone through a lot of mutations and changes in my career. Whether it was forsaking art altogether for a stint in undergrad or working a crappy day job 40-50 hours a week, my practice has been built around this sort of structure of resistance. Before my daughter was born, these roadblocks felt overwhelming and detrimental. I was pretty much ruled by anxiety because of them: I often worried about things like not getting into shows, not making enough work….you know, the typical BS that comes with the territory. I’m not saying that I don’t still have those anxieties, but my responses to them are much more measured. I have learned that ambition has its place but my practice is contingent on the stability and health of my family and my personal well-being, which is actually nurtured more from sources that are outside of art culture. I feel fatherhood brought about this revelation in me. It is also still very much unfolding.