Shotgun Review

From Chicago: Stan Shellabarger

By Randall Miller September 21, 2011

Stan Shellabarger has sandpaper on the soles of his boots. With these boots, the Chicago artist uses walking as a performative mark-making gesture in order to create process-driven artworks rich with metaphorical significance. Selections from Shellabarger’s Walking Book series are currently on display at Western Exhibitions.

On a low pedestal rests the book Untitled (2001)—an unfolded, eighteen-foot long wood block print featuring two rough parallel lines connected by loops on either end. At first the lines seem to be greenish-brown on a steel-blue field, but closer examination reveals reds, greens, and blues mingling together through glaze-like layers of printed ink. To create the image, Shellabarger walked back and forth over a row of ten wood blocks, scuffing a path with his sandpaper-affixed boots. After each walking session, which lasted at least four hours, the artist would pull a print from the increasingly worn blocks using a different color for each successive layer. The final product is a single large-scale image that looks like a long multi-colored abrasion.

Unlike other artists who use walking as an artistic practice to explore the natural world or the urban environment, Shellabarger limits his movement to the confines of discretely scaled art materials and restricted distances. The spatial limitations of the areas the artist traverses are just as significant as the extensive duration of his activity. It is within these boundaries that walking more closely resembles pacing, a meditative exercise of interior focus, and the circularity of his movements evoke seasons and the life cycle. 

Untitled (Large Walking Book, Chicago, IL) (2009) is a large-scale hanging piece made of pink craft paper and marked

Stan Shellabarger, Untitled (Large Walking Book, Chicago, IL), Wesern Exhibitions

Stan Shellabarger. Untitled (Large Walking Book, Chicago, IL), 2009; pink craft paper; 240 x 105 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Western Exhibitions, Chicago.

with a labyrinthine spiral. Creating something like a monoprint here, the marks that constitute the spiral are actually holes in the paper patterned from the artist walking over a corrugated metal floor covered by a single sheet of 240-by-105-inch paper. Unlike Untitled (2001), in which the act of walking becomes an autographic gesture in an image-making process, here Shellabarger acts directly on the paper. In both cases, his actions are at once self-affirming and self-erasing. The marks made are uniquely the product of Shellabarger’s body in motion, even if the process obscures any trace of his individual identity.

Walking is a core component of Shellabarger’s creative process. Action, however, is not the end in itself but a means of constructing a brilliantly symbolic object: a book or corpus. Like skeletal remains, his prints are both evidence of action taken and a culmination of that action. Through gesture, the works created by the artist are at once self-portraits and statements of broad commonality.



Stan Shellabarger is on view at Western Exhibitions, in Chicago, through October 15, 2011.

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