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Winter 2020 / VOL. 20 ISSUE 1

Painter Walsh Tackles the Abstract

By: Martin Hintz

“illusionistic magic of historical painting.” Then, as he learned more about the history of art, his focus turned to more contemporary issues.


He said his technique owes as much to the punk and hip-hop ephemera of his growing up years as it does to modernist collage traditions. “The photocopy itself also serves as an important metaphor. Just as an image repeatedly reproduced on a copy machine will become distorted over time,” he indicated.  “So, our understanding of abstraction is altered as paintings are transmitted and reproduced through time and culture,” Walsh went on. For him, these distortions are worthy of celebration.

Milwaukee painter Shane Walsh is fuzzy about many of the details of his Gaelic heritage, but that doesn’t have any bearing on his explosively colorful artwork. He’s noted for his interest in collage, both in a literal sense and as a conceptual framework Walsh’s process begins on a small-scale, explaining that his works are constructed from photocopies of various shapes and marks. He said some are expressive, others graphic or digital, which he feels respond to the history of abstract painting.


Walsh pointed out that he has always loved painting, initially drawn to what he called the

Now back to that Celtic business. In school, Walsh took an Irish culture class and spent time studying illuminated manuscripts, so that portion of Irish art history was seared into his consciousness, he explained. I still have a very deep reverence for that work and those artists.”


However, he is not sure about the specifics of his ancestry. His father did some research many years ago that tracked the family; yet he doesn’t remember much of the process. “I’m presently trying to locate those documents, so hopefully I’ll know more soon,” he related. “I do remember that they emigrated in the mid-late 1800s and were from Co. Cork. My mother’s family is English and I’m actually related to the author Washington Irving on that side.


Yet those tidbits are enough to make Walsh proud of his Green heritage. “So it was definitely seen as a positive thing,” he laughed.


Walsh has never been to Ireland, but it’s high on his list of places to visit. He has a painter friend in Belfast and the two are trying to organize a group show there, so he’s hoping he’ll get to travel to the Auld Sod soon.


Walsh’s father was an industrial designer who worked at Mercury Marine for many years, even studying at the old Layton School of Art in Milwaukee; and was responsible for immersing his son in art from a young age. “My father was always a strong influence and did everything to encourage me, but there was never an expectation that I had to be an artist.  However, it was a good environment to grow up in,” Walsh said.


“I love abstraction because it is its own language and it allows me to embody ideas and feelings without having to be so literal. I don’t need to make pictures of ‘things’ in order to communicate and that’s the most exciting place to be for me,” Walsh asserted.


He received his MFA from the University of Washington in 2006, and his BFA from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2001.  He is prolific, with solo exhibitions including the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Artstart in Milwaukee; The Alice Wilds, Milwaukee; Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee; Thelma Sadoff Center in Fond Du Lac, WI; and Seattle’s Blindfold Gallery.

Walsh is represented by, Asya Geisberg Gallery in New York City and The Alice Wilds gallery in Milwaukee. He has solo shows at the galleries every two years or so, with a solo show called “Combinated” opening March 6 at The Alice Wilds Gallery in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.  He also has work currently on view at the Wisconsin’s Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of its Triennial.


A partial list of his group exhibitions includes Juxtapoz Projects at the Mana Contemporary cultural center in Jersey City; Youngspace, New York;  the Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, WI; Open Gallery, Portland, Ore.; Usable Space, Milwaukee; Transients Gallery, St. Louis, Mo.; and Francine Seders Gallery in Seattle. Walsh is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Mary Nohl Suitcase Fund; and has been written up such diverse publications as Artsy, New American Paintings, The Shepherd Express and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

For Walsh, the hardest part of being a professional artist is insisting on carving out time for actually doing one’s life work. “Also, when you’re starting out, it’s tough to find a job that will support you but also gives you enough time to seriously pursue making art. The rest is all fun,” he enthused, adding that “living a life where problem solving and creating new things is at the center is an incredible privilege that I don’t take for granted.”  


He admitted that he absolutely enjoys many pints of Guinness with artist friends talking about art and the art world. “It’s one of my favorite things to do besides paint,” he declared.


While having a bit of the drink is important, staying healthy as an artist is vital and not something that the culture in general thinks about, according to Walsh. “Usually the clichés about artists involve self-destructive behaviors but those habits generally don’t make people productive or interesting,” he said.  Walsh hits the gym five to six days a week and go for long walks with his dog. For him, mental clarity and feeling good is necessary to his morning studio routine and to get things done.


According to Walsh, Milwaukee is an amazing city to live in as an artist because it is relatively cheap and close to other places like Chicago and New York. “There are so many really interesting artists working in Milwaukee right now, the only tough thing is that the city doesn’t really have an arts infrastructure like New York or Los Angeles so it’s difficult to make a living unless you have access to those major hubs,” he said. “In terms of being able to live and have time to make your work though…this city is a diamond for that.“

There is more than one Shane Walsh that meets the Irish eye.  Another Shane Walsh plays hurling with his local club Fourmilewater and Gaelic football with The Nire-Fourmilewater. He played at inter-county level with Waterford.  According to his on-line bio, Walsh scored the winning goal for Waterford in the 2003 Munster under-21 football final, against a Kerry team that included Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy. Walsh won the Waterford Senior Football Championship but lost the Munster Senior Club Football Championship final with The Nire-Fourmilewater in 2006. In October 2014, Walsh retired from inter-county hurling.  This Walsh was born in 1983. In Irish, his name reads Shane Breathnach. 


Then there is also Shane Walsh (b. 1993), the current Galway Senior Football captain for 2020. He plays his club ball for Kilkerrin-Clonberne.  And let’s not forget Shane Walsh (b. 1959), a former Australian rules footballer who played with Footscray in the Victorian Football League.


Hold on, there is yet another Shane Walsh.  This latter lad (b. 1976) is a Paralympic swimming competitor from Australia. He was born cerebral palsy at the Gold Coast, Queensland.   He won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games in the men's 4 × 100 meter freestyle 34 points event. He was an Australian Institute of Sport Paralympic swimming scholarship holder in 2000. After the Games, he has managed bars and restaurants across the Gold Coast. In 2008, he took part in Surf Life Saving Queensland's Skills for Life Community Program.


His main production studio is on Milwaukee’s south side of Milwaukee on Historic Mitchell Street, He also shares a New York studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with a few other artists from Milwaukee.  


Walsh’s daily regime includes teaching painting and drawing at UW-Milwaukee, so during the school year, he works mostly from Friday to Sunday.  “But when school is not in session, I’m emphatically a morning person. I wake up around 6 a.m. make coffee and immediately hit the studio, I feel like my mind is freshest and I have my best ideas in the morning. I usually spend about 8 to 10 hours a day in the studio on workdays,” he related.


The most important thing Walsh has learned about himself as an artist is admittedly a tough question but he had a quick answer.  “I think making art shows you the best and the worst parts of yourself, so it’s an incredible way to have to get to know yourself,”



It Seems That Walshes Pop Up Everywhere

By: Special to The Irish American Post, Courtesy of an Internet Perusal

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