This is the seventeenth in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists have been announced, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA July 17 to August 3, 2014.
Name: Paul Shortt
Current Location: Mt. Vernon, Baltimore, MD
Hometown: Floyd, VA
School: Kansas City Art Institute, BFA Painting, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, New Media
Current favorite artists or artwork: Pilvi Takala, Ana Prvacki
What is your day job? Artist Registry Coordinator and Program Assistant at Maryland Art Place (MAP). The MSAC website and Artists’ Registry recently went through an upgrade, and I would encourage you to check it out and sign up. It’s a free resource for Maryland residents. As part of my job, I also run the Resource Bulletin for the state, which is housed on MAP’s website and has tons of regional, national and some international calls for art. I feel that part of my “job” as an artist is to create opportunity for other artists and contribute to the local art scene. I’m happy that my day job at MAP allows me to do that.
How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? Working part-time helps, in addition to having a very understanding fiancée. I’ve also found going to the gym everyday is a good way to decompress and stay focused. Much of my practice takes place in my notebooks or on my computer so I spend a lot of time in cafes. I spend about 70% of my time trying to get the work I’ve created out, proposing projects, or applying for grants, and the other 30% developing and creating new work.
How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? I keep a notebook of ideas that I constantly go back to and update. From there I usually discuss my projects with friends for perspective. Then I tend do drawings, mock-ups, test videos, and write about it more. I lot of time is spend figuring out what the best way to convey the subject matter is and what would be the best materials and media to create it. Then making it could mean sending a file off to be printed, spending hours in the studio to create it, or finding the right collaborators to make the performance or video happen.
What research do you do for your art practice? I tend to find as much information about a subject that I can, which means I end up reading a lot of non-fiction, and spending tons of time online.
What books have you read lately you would recommend? I just read Herzog On Herzog, which is an incredible collection of interviews with the filmmaker. Also Kippenberger: His Life and Work about the artist Martin Kippenberger. The book was written by his sister, who’s a journalist, and the first 100 pages really lay out the complexities of not only who he was but also the contradictions you can find in everyone. I also recently enjoyed Killer on the Road by Ginger Strand, which combines a history of the highway system with true crime to explore the realities and myths around the idea of the killer on the road. Movies? “How To Survive a Plague.” It’s heartbreaking but really shows how information and activism can bring about change and save lives. I also really enjoyed “The Lego Movie.” For a film that is about a product it does a good job of exploring rules, conformity, and creativity. Television? “Mad Men,” “True Detective,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Community.” I’m also re-watching “The Wire” to see how many locations I can spot now that I live here. Music? Arthur Russell, Lonnie Holley, Idiot Glee, Tame Impala, Mark McGuire, Sam Cooke, The Swans, John Maus, Bill Callahan. My music taste is always evolving and changes depending on mood.
I would add: Radio: Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Favorite Coffee shops: Milk and Honey and Spro. Museum: I went to the BMA for the first time recently and loved the contemporary wing. They have a really incredible collection.
Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? Everyone goes through rough patches. I clear my head out by going to the movies, reading the New York Times, walking around thrift stores/antique shops/libraries, etc. I’m of the belief that you have to go out and live a little to have something to make art about.
How do you challenge yourself in your work? I’m constantly challenging myself to dig deeper and get to the essence of what my work is about and attempting to do. Right now, for me it’s about having a large scope to my projects. I tend to be working on multiple projects at the same time that on the surface may seem separate, but often are interrelated, and as a whole speak to the larger vision of where I’m growing.
What is your dream project? I would love to create an interactive public art project that becomes a part of a city’s identity, like Anish Kapor’s “Bean” in Chicago and Chris Burden’s “Urban Lights” in Los Angeles. That said, I have a lot of other dream projects.