From street walls to stretched canvases, what you see in shaun thurston’s art is a search for equilibrium
Sitting with Shaun Thurston amongst a varied collection of his artwork on display in Bold Bean Coffee’s new San Marco location, the conversation is mainly about the artistic process, but keeps steering itself toward the scientific. The exhibition almost feels like a retrospective, with each piece speaking a unique language of materials, processes, artistic qualities, and subjects. But with the exception of a few, the works are recent. So the breadth represented is not only indicative of years spent evolving through various styles, but also the result of different days in the studio when Thurston felt compelled to explore something new to him through art. Having been a working artist for well over a decade, he experiments with intention, and with an idea of the results he can achieve. “Art is walking the line between discipline and freedom,” he says. And not unlike a scientist, Thurston holds the reactions to his art as “data” collected to be utilized in future work.
“Where science and consciousness work to explain the mechanisms and the purpose of reality, and where they overlap, I look for answers,” he says.
The work closest to our table, titled Quantum States, is a painting (triptych) of multiple gold nebulae floating on a dark background of mainly purples, with sharp silhouettes of figures wearing flippers and oxygen tanks levitating closest to the surface. It shows a variety of techniques, each chosen for their distinct physicality. As Thurston puts it, “Every texture is meant to convey the inherent quality of the thing. If I’m throwing the paint chaotically it’s because I’m showing chaos.” In essence, he uses physics to illustrate physics. Here, each nebula is formed by a core of gestural brushstrokes surrounded by larger curvilinear marks, so cleanly executed they appear silken in their fluidity. Elsewhere on the surface are splatters, diffused dots, and bursts of spray paint that were literally achieved through the force of exploding cans of paint. The intricately cut stencils of scuba divers have been sprayed onto the piece in triplicate, conveying a quieter kinetic energy, almost flickering.
“I listen to YouTube lectures on the latest findings in quantum mechanics and I imagine the forces and probability waves they are talking about, but in colors, movement and shapes of paint,” he says. “I think about the smallest little forces that we don’t see in our everyday lives.”
It’s likely you’ve seen Thurston’s larger public work driving through Jacksonville. His murals can be seen on walls all over the city, including at Chamblin’s Uptown, Lomax Street in Five Points, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, and Green Room in Jacksonville Beach to name just a few. As One Spark’s top art pick in 2014, he created a mural in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCA Jax) as a Project Atrium installation, and he recently completed a permanent mural on the exterior of the Museum of Science and History (MOSH). He is an accomplished muralist, well-known both here and in Atlanta (where he lived for a while and occasionally still works). His murals are arresting in their intricate detail and composition; however, armed with some knowledge of Thurston’s interest in science, one can pick up even more. There is an overarching theme of the natural world, of our place in it, and of art depicting our experience, adding to our collective consciousness and making waves in our pool of knowledge.
If Thurston’s work, both on walls and in frames, can be summarized in one word, it is equilibrium. He strives for aesthetic equilibrium within each drawing or painting, citing this is as a driving force behind his approach and point of completion in all of his pieces; he seeks to achieve equilibrium with the surrounding area and passersby though his murals, adding to the local dialogue and “helping the vibe of the place”; and he believes in a constant struggle for harmonic equilibrium in the universe, a big concept that is always at play in his art.
Article written by Meredith T. Matthews