Above: Rorschach Symmetry 2015 ballpoint pen ink, oil paint & resins on panel. 48 x 48'' (122 x 122cm) All artwork © Shane McAdams
Something Doesn't Gel
The Ballpointer puts a full spectrum of newly-abundent, multi-colored gel inks into the light of lightfast swatch-watch testing. With insight from B. Neufeld ・
Soft Maple 2015
ballpoint pen ink & resin
on Maple, 20 x 41''
(51 x 105cm)
2015, ballpoint pen
ink & resins on
14 x 61''
(36 x 155cm)
Ink tests conducted by McAdams may already be reaching impressionable minds in classes taught by the artist.
McAdams, an artist who is essentially in a class by himself,
started teaching fine art and art history at Marian University
in Wisconsin. ''Teaching has always been important to me.
I always expected to teach art and make work in a
complementary manner. My wife's family is from Wisconsin
and when we had a family we thought Wisconsin would be
a better place than Brooklyn.''
TB Still back and forth between Wisconsin and Brooklyn?
SM The jet-setting was on pause for the first few months of
Wincie's life, but I'm going to be doing the bi-coastal thing;
that's the continental east coast and Lake Michigan coast.
TB I'm assuming your Brooklyn setting was urban, but
are you in a very rural setting now in Wisconsin?
SM I wouldn't say I'm in a rural setting but it's definitely
not Brooklyn urban. I like making work in Wisconsin much
more than Brooklyn. At a very basic level it's just easier to
do anything, from hauling wood to running to the store. It's
also quieter and more removed from the competitive
maw of the art machine. But I have more quality time now
when in Brooklyn than I would've if I lived there with two
TB How has teaching affected your output or outlook?
SM The energy of the students is always invigorating.
Also having to teach and explain what one does inevitably
clarifies it for oneself・
Artist Shane McAdams is not only among the busiest of ballpointers but he is also among the few who do not require the ''ballpoint pen'' prefix, a designation which may turn heads but more often serves to pigeonhole those who may overexploit it. In between hunting for a new Brooklyn studio, teaching in Wisconsin and all else the artist currently juggles — including healthy, newborn Winifred, perhaps the artist's proudest achievement since we spoke this time last year — Mr. McAdams was generous enough to spend a few minutes catching us up.
Continued from above... Although McAdams' output often follow distinct streams of consciousness — as his
Pen Blows or Suspended Landscape series', to name a few — course changes inevitably present themselves and McAdams is happy to embark into uncharted territory while older series interact and evolve concurrently. In 2015, McAdams had trees on his mind. And in his studio. Splayed Oak, and Ash, and Hickory. ''Yes, still working with trees. I have an entire Willow tree drying out so that I can work on it in Springtime.''
TB I'm imagining a huge tree trunk two-feet thick and six-feet long (or more) propped up in the corner. Is that in one
piece or already somehow chopped or sliced?
SM It was cut wet and is currently drying in planks. They'll twist and bend while they cure, but once they hit a critical moisture level I'll CNC a plank out of the stable, dry board. The fresh wood needs to be kilned and its residual
moisture needs to drop to 9 percent or so. At that point I can CNC it (Computerized Numerical Control), plane it
and/or drum sand it to my liking. CNC is a computer-plotting system for cleaning up the wood. It can find a plank
within a complex shape and route out what's not needed.
TB Where are you getting the materials? I mean, the trees, how are you obtaining them? Now I'm imagining you
out there with an axe or saw claiming these trees for yourself.
SM An axe? Who am I, Paul Bunyan?? Chainsaw! And in the case of the Willow I had help from a more
experienced chainsaw operator. But the process is pretty crude and straightforward: take a fallen tree — hopefully
one that fell when it was dormant — cut angular planks out of it, cure it, and then hopefully finish it into clean
boards. But I get trees wherever I can find them. Sort of a network of nerds. There is also a fine hardwood place
I visit occasionally to see if they have something lying around.
TB Was there some specific spark that ignited the tree series? Something ecological being said?
SM I'm more into the grammar and semiology of the visual language, and the history of painting. I get at these
ideas through notions of what is 'natural' and 'unnatural' in terms of materials, processes, and imagery. So
ecology gets in there through a discussion about what one considers to be artificial or constructed and what
they consider 'real'.
Presenting viewers with imagery which poses such questions of the natural and unnatural are a
longstanding subtext of McAdams' work. Merely by his choice of materials are these questions posed,
especially by juxtaposing his ballpoint pen ink and resin concoctions with the trees. Sliced trees, quite
literally, bark intact. Some pieces leave the trees' natural age rings partially exposed, met at sharply
defined borders with the unnatural smears of ink and resin. In Hickory (pictured), elements of the natural and
unnatural send viewers' eyes dancing; rhythmic grains of wood are abruptly interrupted by an angular
border where neon-colored streaks take over the composition. Sometimes the chemical bleed of the applied
inks and resins appear as an invasive fungus. In others, the rings are obscured altogether, leaving only
thick, inky streaks framed by the natural bark of the tree.
Inked In: Shane McAdams・Wisconsin, USA
Since 2014・Volume 6
The Ballpointer No shortage of change for you in 2015; relocating to Wisconsin, teaching, even a road trip art project!
Shane McAdams If there aren't dramatic changes in my ongoing studio practice, something is wrong. An investigator should be sent to my house.
TB Exhibitions kept you plenty busy last year, how many?
SM More than I can recall at this moment. I think it's more about quality than quantity, though I do like to say "yes" as much as possible because 'yes' mixes things up more than 'no'. I think the most memorable shows were Paintings in Trees curated by Ben LaRocco in Brooklyn (Bushwick Park), The Devil Within, The Devil Without curated by Colette Robbins and Keri Oldham (Kirk Hopper Fine Art, Dallas), and Current Tendencies at the Haggerty Museum of Art (Marquette University, Milwaukee).
A number of McAdams' more well-traveled artworks made appearances as part of group and solo exhibitions across a broad expanse of the United States, including venues noted above, many of them boutique or university art museums with growing reputations in cities striving to attract cultural consideration. With McAdams decking their halls, the interests and good taste of patrons' namesake institutions were well-represented and art circuit validity deserved. Big fish, small pond doesn't apply; this is a rolling stone gathering no moss. McAdams across America!
Pieces like Splayed Oak (pictured), a sliced and pared tree expertly coated in colored ballpoint inks showing more of an artist's touch than any cow Damien Hirst has ever dissected (or had dissected for him), spent the latter months of 2015 reaching new audiences nationwide. Splayed Oak is currently on display as part of the Exploring Reality group exhibition at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Oregon. ''I'm co-curator of this show, along with museum director Scott Malbaurn. I also wrote the essay, and gave a lecture at the University of Southern Oregon.''
McAdams adds or subtracts artwork to the touring entourage as new works become available or wall space requires filling. ''I choose work based on whether the community has been exposed to a particular work. For instance, Splayed Oak was shown at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee last August with two other paintings, Holy Sea (2013, pictured) and Horizontal Symmetry. Now it's on view in Oregon. I'm pretty sure the art viewing communities in those places have very little overlap'' ...
INKEDIN by R. Bell originally posted February 1, 2016
At top: Splayed Oak 2015, ballpoint pen ink & resins on single Oak tree.
Above: Holy Sea 2013 ballpoint pen ink, oil paint & resins on panel, 48 x 48''.
Below: Cee 2015, ballpoint pen ink, graphite & resins on panel, 48 x 48'' (122 x 122cm). All artwork © Shane McAdams
And how about the Pen Blows? Are they and other familiar series alive and well? ''Yes, I'll be making a bunch of straight pen blows starting this week. And I have about five very large sheets of paper bathing in solutions of Sharpie pens as we speak. We'll see what happens.'' The Ballpointer foresees Sharpie ink-soaked, ballpoint pen-blown slices of Oak, Ash and Hickory in McAdams' future. Graphite also suddenly appeared in the mediums listed for his artwork, as seen in Cee (2015, pictured). ''I'm happy to be as omnivorous as possible. I've recently discovered a tool called an electric eraser and will hopefully start using more rubbed graphite powder. We'll see… I have more ideas than I have studio time.''
McAdams actively tests his inks for ''lightfastness'' — their lifespan against light — as any artist should know their materials. We compared notes…
SM I'm really working on trying to make everything lightfast. I've done similar tests to those of The Ballpointer and there are a surprising variety of pens that retain their color. But I'm still limited because I'm only using the ones that are tested. So I'm currently doing something I've wanted to do for a long long time, which is to do long term UV (ultraviolet) tests with every brand of ballpoint pen ink, so that I may open my palette up a bit. I need to revisit The Ballpointer tests. I remember looking at them and thinking: exactly what I got. My inks are suspended in resin so there is a slightly different dynamic, but what I saw was a confirmation of what I'd learned through my own trials.
On record: I've tested PapermateWrite Bros; blue, red, black, and green. Blue is terribly not lightfast, the rest are moderate. I've tested all of (Zebra)
Z-Grip colors. The light blue is very durable, the purple is fairly stable. The gray (comes out magenta) is OK, the orange is good if I mix it with Bic Crystal black. Papermate profile, light blue: very durable in UV. Bic Crystal: light blue, purple, light green, and green are good.
RECAP originally posted November 2, 2015
A Year in The Pen
The Ballpointer Nov 2014 ~ Nov 2015
Someday, someone else will list the accomplishments of The Ballpointer annually, but, seeing as all involved had doubts as to whether the site would even make it through a year, much less become the crown jewel of our fledgling empire, please bear with us as we bask in our own glory. OK, year-end timeline lists of accomplishments are usually lame. As publishers, we promise to never do this again. That said, allow us to remind you why we're here, lest you forget. A True Story…