Shaun Berke is one of the most skilled artists I’ve ever met. And when I saw a Rembrandt master-copy he created for a group show, I instinctively knew that he must have had some really insane pieces hiding out in his studio. So, I took the trip out to his place, where he pulled out one amazing print after another. He had woodcuts that were as masterful as anything by Albert Dürer as well as an entire book he made for his thesis project at Art Center that was full of pop culture references you wouldn’t realize he was initially inspired by. The fact that he can execute everything from a classical painting to graphic design work is kind of unheard of. There are those who can do one or the other, but very rarely anyone who can do it all, and do it all remarkably well. In particular though, I really wish Shaun continues to make some more woodcuts, since I haven’t seen an artist do anything close to what he’s doing with the medium due to his level of detail and depth of narrative. I mean, some of his pieces have entire books that go along with them featuring mythologies he’s created based upon heavy research.
You’re woodblock print is incredible! How did it come about?
Thanks! It was from a printmaking project I did at Art Center. It’s actually my first woodcut, so I was cursing Albert Dürer the entire time. And it took a good while, so, Dürer is good and damned. The attempt was to pickup where the story left off and show how the long awaited rapture is received.
Are you still doing woodcuts?
No, and being that they take so much time to create, it might have to wait until I can borrow as many hands as Durer had. I’m glad to hear you like it though because I might not’ve gotten back to it otherwise.
What’s going on with this print?
It’s Neanderthal, made in ASCII characters –an archetype print with the A-C-G-T of the nucleo-base, sequenced by the Human Genome Project.
Didn’t that take forever to do?
It took awhile.
Is it on handmade paper?
No, but I did learn how to make paper and have had this paper chess board drying on the roof for a year or so. It keeps raining you see, and I keep forgetting, or remembering and not caring. It’s made from mulberry fibers, for a pagan-themed set, and is about 10″ thick.
Is there a theme you’re expressing throughout all of your work?
I want to speak to the Age of Doubt.
What is that?
It’s this secular time were living in. I mean, religion is still a constant, but science has gradually restricted its authority. We know so much more than we did, and yet there’s still so much we don’t know. That’s where the Big Three goofed – saying all the answers were in their holy books. So, it’s kinda funny that the rustic and pantheistic religions that were decimated along the way turned out to be a bit more…reasonable. It makes sense to me to worship the sun and water and such. I’m not necessarily interested in trying to roll things back to an ancient time – I just want to keep the roots of those times visible.
How much can you geek out on art history right now?
The other night I had a conversation about all the Judith paintings quoted throughout art history. I prefer Artemisia’s Judith Beheading Holofernes to Caravaggio’s. There’s much more behind Artemisia’s painting. And with so many histories to get lost in, one might not recognize what culture has turned into. Popular culture is easy to spot and hard to miss, really. The Jerk would sooner be read in a painting than, say, Samson and Delilah. So I’m going to paint some grand portraits of chimps, to welcome our future masters. See what I did there? That’s a reference to Planet of the Apes. So, as wonderful as it is to paint beautiful and young nudes in reference to all the classical greats, I still want to have a giant painting of my cat.
Have you ever tried starting your own mythology?
When I was studying the classics I developed a story from a line in Succession of Gods. So, in my story (which I called a song, since all old stories were actually songs, you see) Chaos still rules the Greek pantheon and not Ouranos, Kronos, or Zeus. I then made a painting to serve as an epilogue to writing.
What mythology are you into now?
I really like Slavonic mythology. It was a rustic pagan religion, which was particularly young when Christianity decapitated it. There were some really lovely stories and humble perspectives within its myths.
Isn’t it difficult to find books on Slavonic mythology though?
Yes and it really makes one come to terms with the class they’re in.
What do you mean by that?
Well, I found the most amazing collection of mythology and when I asked how much it cost, it was something like two or eight or twelve thousand dollars. So, I just stayed there in the shop and read every part I needed.
What’s your goal?
I just want to keep the roots of the past visible. The short of it is that my interest in figurative painting lays in cave painting – a documenting and ritual source of hominid powers. I want to make something look like it actually it, destroy it to get at its soul, and then eat its soul to crap out poetry.
What’s something someone wouldn’t know about you unless they asked?
I carry a lighter around, but I don’t smoke – it’s just a totem for my appreciation of fire. I don’t know, I might not say anything. Or maybe I’d announce my favorite food –gyros, gyros are my favorite food– or maybe what my middle name is. I like having a private life –having things that nobody knows about. Sometimes I forget to close the book, but there are still plenty of pages.