Craig Shillam: Supernatural Commonplace

craig shillam

“Yellow Sweater/Freeman Store” 17″ x 26 1/2″ Colored Pencil, gouache, copyright Craig Shillam


CashArtBlog: This is a reprint of a blog article about Craig Shillam, dated August 2, 2008, by a blogger named Scotty, on a blog called West of Center. All attempts to contact Scotty were unsuccessful.

Even in the context of representational work, the American West imbues her artists with an inherent sense of the abstract and the organic; with an unapologetic, folkish bent; and with an innate understanding of the light and space that surround, suffuse and animate their subjects.

And there is something deeper still – a fierce sense of idealism and independence that turns almost anyone that dares live and work in America’s most sacred spaces into a different kind of outsider; an artist often free of traditional schools or the cabal of a movement.

Craig Shillam: Supernatural Commonplace

The work is the movement. And It is driven by a dialogue between equally weighted

craig shillam

“The Apple Polisher” copyright Craig Shillam, colored pencil, 17 1/2″ x 26″

internal and external visions – a rare balance born of the extraordinary and iconic nature of both.

Enter Craig Shillam, a Spokane, Washington native who works mainly in colored pencils and gouche. Shillam’s voice could easily be mistaken for that of a tradional illustrator. Yet, really experience Shillam’s sense of light and subject and a different sort of portrait emerges.

Take a look at The Apple Polisher, let the photons fall where they may, and you’ll observe a space in which luminescent light is as much a character as the central one, a solitary, red-shirted figure barely engaged by a trio of visitors. The subjects are real people and the setting is almost any working country home in America. And in that Shillam percieves and transmits a spirit of romanticism regarding the rustic commonplace.

Such is a recurring theme in Craig Shillam’s work, where supernatural light gives rise to a spectrum of color that allows the artist to embrace a wide array of subjects while always maintaining a unified voice.

In Ladies of the Sunday Bazaar, Shillam filters sunlight through a great canvas awning, creating a subdued and semi-private space that lets the characters let down their guard, sharing gossip and the doldrums of waiting in a sea of earthtones. The players are at peace, as the artist is unobserved – a point of view that makes the postmodern outsider nostalgic for a simple life never experienced.

craig shillam

Shillam’s Work is emblematic of the West, because Shillam understand’s how to strip himself from the moment, revealing it naked and sacred, absent any filters.In Yellow Sweater/Freeman Store the central character walks into the sun as he steps onto the porch of an old country store sporting a no-longer relevant Exxon sign and a worn ghost town facade that veils a pastoral horizon. Here again, audience and artist are joined in a spirit of romanticsm regarding the rustic commonplace – a yearning for something simple, eternal and long ago lost.In “Remembering to Forget” , a perfect bookend to “Yellow Sweater,  the conflicted nostalgia of an unhappy childhood is invoked by the image of a dilapidated farmhouse in an overgrown field shrouded by low-hanging summer storm clouds. Such meditations by the artist boil complexity down to simplicity by revealing the subject absent the filter of commentary.Years ago I was acquainted with the notion that in order for there to be an “arts scene” the population ofbohemians in a given area had to reach a sort of critical mass. This, went the idea, would explain the fact that so few artist emerged from the places like my frst hometown, St. Petersburg, Florida. Meanwhile, New York and Chicago and Paris and San Francisco were bound to create  their quota ofgeniuses.Such geographic snobbery would have to exclude the work of artists like Craig Shillam that strive for the transparent; for work that sees and conveys artist and subject  in a manner raw with the sophistication of the actual.Thank You Scotty – Wherever you are…C.S. To view more of Craig Shillam’s work, go to craig shillam

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    Craig Shillam: Supernatural Commonplace

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