Meet the Artist
By using my own experiences in Southern Appalachia, I address the uncomfortable experiences queer people face in society today. While progression continues to happen within the LGBTQIA+ community, people are still being rejected, kicked out of their homes, and harmed just because of their queer identity. I explore the relationship between identity and familial structure, Appalachian culture, and societal stigma. My exploration into these relationships are inspired by personal and others’ experiences, and I use narrative figure painting to construct a story around my work.
Through storytelling, I explore the liminal experiences of existing in uncomfortable and dangerous spaces as a queer person, and I juxtapose abstracted environments against figures within the work. I explore this tension in my work by use of hyper saturated color, mark making, and pitting characters against other antagonizing figures in nature. My paintings are fantastical; I am inspired by stories of epic fantasy, fairy tales, and artists such as Hernan Bas and Neo Rauch. These artists create magical and figurative paintings while telling a story, something I partake in when creating my art. When composing a body of work, I consider each painting within the series a chapter to the overall story, each piece tied to a different emotion or event that happened in real life. I use moments that I have personally experienced, as well as stories I have heard from others that I am close with, to drive the creation of my compositions. I use traditional storytelling elements in my paintings to strengthen the narrative of the work, and this includes the creation of a protagonist and antagonist, the format of the hero’s journey, and creating the work in a linear fashion. With this in mind, I do not let the linearity of the story influence my process in creating the work; I still allow it to evolve naturally as the paintings develop. The heroes and villains within my work can change from painting to painting, but what they represent within the work stays the same through the narrative.
Through the exploration of liminality in my life and my work, I am able to understand the complexities of queerness in terms of class, society, and family. I create these works so others can get a glimpse of what it is like to exist in a queer body in uncomfortable spaces. By using traditional Appalachian iconography, such as mountain landscapes, old trucks, and historic sites, I offer a bridge for those who wouldn’t normally interact with queer art, so that they can explore my works and be confronted with what I convey through my compositions. Through storytelling, I want to challenge the notion that everything is “okay” now in queer communities when, as a society, we have a lot to improve upon to ensure it is safe to be queer in America today.
Shawn Quilliams is a painter from East Tennessee currently residing in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He received his BFA in Painting from East Tennessee State University, and is currently pursuing his MFA in Painting at The University of Arkansas. He has been shown nationally in Tennessee, Michigan, Arkansas, North Carolina, New York, and more. He attended the Chautauqua School of Art, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and will be an artist in residence at Stoveworks in the summer.