Correction: This visual arts feature was incorrectly attributed to Mike Krainak in our March print issue. It was written by Kent Behrens. Our apologies.— Editors
You may not know this, but the gallery at UNO’s School of the Arts occasionally shows artists not affiliated with the University. Last summer, the Gallery Committee agreed to focus some exhibits on artists from underrepresented groups – specifically black, indigenous, people of color. Commencing with a planned opening for January 28, the gallery will present a new two-person show called Insight.
For this exhibit, former Curator Jeremy Menard chose Shawnequa Linder, of Omaha, and Harold Smith, of Kansas City; two prolific and expressive artists who present complementary work, both working in mixed-media, collage and painting, both recognized as process-driven and experimental.
Smith’s paintings are bold and aggressive in both execution and color. Grounded in urban expressionist stylings and social issue commentary, they often emphasize attitudes, perceptions and acceptance of black male masculinity in contemporary western society.
Though Smith is the relative unknown here, Linder’s many fans may also be pleasantly surprised by a recent development in her more familiar portraiture and landscapes.
In Linder’s work, we find more purely abstracted images, but equally expressive explorations into the psychological territory of self-examination. Often emanating from figure/shapes or fantastic landscapes, they are less obvious in their connection to any socio-political issue or cultural specifics. Linder’s portraits are not usually depictions of specific people, nor are they meant as self-portraits.
Her earlier works featured visible facial features – eyes, lips¬ – but still were distorted or obscured at times, mostly based on the artist’s personal ideas or dreams. Sometimes, they were simply vehicles for her to apply her experimental textures and layering, and other methods of depicting stress or decay, elements very important in her work.
In fact, Linder’s most recent showings feature even more abstracted faces, what she calls her minimalist works, and they have fewer, if any, facial features. She shies away from calling them self-portraits, however. Not one to influence a viewer as to what they should see in her work, the artist says she prefers to keep it free and open to interpretation, no matter what her initial idea.
“It’s almost like telling a story, but it’s the story for other people to tell.”
Linder’s works invite close visual analysis. She is forever experimenting with new processes, trying various materials, adding layers and washes, then scraping and sanding to reveal previous details or color.
Linder’s predilection for depicting complex textures of decay and stress has always been a resource for her paintings. It comes directly from what she calls her first love, photography.
One of Linder’s first jobs was that of Imaging Specialist with the Omaha World Herald, where she used her Graphic design background to color correct photos for publication. It was here she developed an interest in photography. She soon obtained permission to shadow staff photographers, to try to learn more, possibly leading to a job as a photojournalist.
Logic and job requirements necessitated that she pursue courses in photography at Metro Tech where she discovered the work of Aaron Siskind. She took to Siskind’s depictions of urban decay, peeling paint and rusty, timeworn, urban detritus.
It was then on to Bellevue University, for a BA in Studio Art, with an emphasis on Painting and Photography. Here she developed a fondness for painting, and found further inspiration, mostly from the collage work of Robert Rauschenberg, and Anselm Kiefer, and the paintings of Gerhardt Richter. It was in their work where she began to see distinct possibilities for her work.
Linder does not limit herself in any way. She sees everything as available to her and is just as inclined to mix in powdered concrete to get an effect as she is to adding collage elements or sand back an entire layer of red until its gone.
She teaches part time, usually painting, drawing and sculpture, preferably to younger children, through Joslyn Museum and occasional through WhyArts. She still retains a full-time job, operating the digital presses at Boy’s Town. Needless to say, her art has to be done at night and on weekends.
Linder grew up in a military family; early childhood was spent in Okinawa, Japan, of which she holds fond memories. “I specifically remember having friends over for pizza; they would use chopsticks to eat the pizza,” she laughs.
But moving often was part of the deal, and it was difficult to keep long-term friendships. Constantly moving could have affected her creative process, as she finds it difficult to land on one thing, always trying new processes and methods, and not content in her own artistic stability.
“I’m all over the place, but I’m focusing.” Linder said. “There’s all this pressure just to have consistency with your work. It’s hard on an artist that tries so many different things.”
This includes using her photography as a source of ideas for her paintings. She often considers taking the plunge and including some photography in a show but remains pragmatic; “What people want from me is my paintings.”
Content with photography in the background, she sees herself in five years “definitely showing out of state.” Though she hasn’t felt she had a large enough or cohesive enough body of work until now. And while her work historically has been smaller in size, she is slowly making her landscapes a bit larger. She prefers to keep her portraits at a more intimate size for now.
Over the past three to four years Linder built an extensive CV and won numerous OEAA awards. Her exhibition list covers quite a few venues, including solo, dual and group shows.
Recently Linder has received commission work; a book cover for award winning, internationally renowned poet, JC Todd; and four paintings for Nebraska Shakespeare depict each of the four plays to be performed this year.
Yet even as the artist’s career expands, gallery exhibitions such as the current Insight on view at UNO’s Art Galley continue to be a mainstay for Linder and her followers.
“We’re big fans of her and her artwork,” Split Gallery owners Brian Wetjen and Jill Rizzo said of Shawnequa. “Seeing her evolution over the years has been a pleasure, and it’s always exciting when she shows new work.”