A lot of artists are closet good Samaritans- meaning they would share their talents if the opportunity came to them. The concept of the recluse artist, that distinguishes himself only by retreating to some studio and practicing or dabbling in his own thoughts and materials is a concept that is totally lost on Shawn Dunwoody. He returns to the fold what talents have been bestowed upon him, with near maniacal ferocity. His physical movement, when giving instruction or just chit-chating, is a paradox of restless calm. One minute he is having a focused conversation with a student, then all of a sudden he disappears to a distant squadron of Dunwoody Studios. This studio and the Four Walls Gallery are located off Elton St. in the Neighborhood of the Arts.
What is your academic background?
I attended MCC and finished up at Empire. Actually I still have a couple more classes before I get my Bachelor's. A lot of school was done outside of school, so I don't know how to answer that question properly or politically correct. I don't even know what you want to know.
What is your skill area?
Oh all right we can go there, we'll go that route. Academia can only teach you so much and then you have to get out in the field and pursue and do. So I do everything from painting to sculpture, graphic design. I do some video work. A lot of those things came out of a necessity as an artist to pursue different ways to speak and say what I feel and depict the world in different ways. So from that desire came those other tools to tell the story.
Do you feel that education in an art school hampers an artist in a way or would you benefit from learning within a more structured traditional setting?
I think there is a benefit from learning in an academic institute. You're going to learn to work with other people, there is a small amount of that; you're going to learn within a community, learn how to develop yourself. Sometimes you might not find your voice as much because you're trying so hard to make the grade. You might not have the time to develop or find yourself. I think that is in any art form or anything you are going to school for. Even if you become a lawyer, you're going to study those lawbooks, but there is a particular style that you are going to have to create for yourself, and a name for yourself and that takes time after you get out of school.
So you get the foundation work there, but there are lot of things I think they need to do as far as arts in education. I know some of them offer a semester of a class or maybe even a year, but it needs to be a yearly process – every quarter or every semester, that they are learning about the business of art. Not just about portfolio presentation. How do you make money? How do you manage your money? How do you set up accounts? How do you make contacts? A few weeks of that is just not enough because that is going to be the core of what you are doing after you leave school. You are going to be trying to generate work.
Art doesn't finance itself…
That is why they are always saying the "starving artist." So that needs to go along with it to understand that art is a business.
What are you doing here this summer with the students?
We're doing uh…sometimes I feel too much, I am a little burnt out but. They are creating a fashion show is what it is. So they're learning to screen print, so they created their own designs. There are two companies; one is called "Protégé" and one is called "Royalty." They create their own names, logos, t-shirt designs they come up with their color concepts. All those things are done as far as their clothing line. They also, both teams together, when we're working as a full unit, we constructed the set, we built the runway, they built the flats which they did aerosol art on. So they learned how to do graffiti.
Who is paying the bills for this project?
City of Rochester and Rochester Works Summer of Opportunity's Youth Employment Program.
We are sitting here in the Four Walls Gallery for this interview, what are the dimensions of it and what distinguishes this from other galleries?
I think this is 19 by 17. My mission is to help support emerging and mid-career artists. I wanted to get different voices. I've gone to too many galleries and we're all walking around with our hands behind our back and I wanted a more home-like, down to earth, I guess how uppity can I get, I'm in a basement. But to give it that more comfortable feel; that you can interact with the work, you can hang out. Because there's always someone hangin' out here. A lot of galleries you go to, you know it's like "be quiet, don't speak too loud." I mean the donation box is filled with gumballs. I wanted to have a little bit of fun with it. I don't want anyone to feel afraid to approach a piece of artwork.
Also the artists that are exhibiting have to do a public work in the neighborhood. So they have to do something for the kids. I mean you're going to do a show but you have to do a project at the playground. That is one of the missions of the gallery; that the art has to go out to the masses so that everyone feels free to approach it.
You are working with teenagers. When you were their age, what did you see yourself being when you grew up?
I saw myself being rich and famous. I don't know what for, and on television, don't know what for. But I always wanted to be an artist. As far as occupation, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't know how to get to that point of being a paid artist. No one around me knew how. So even when I had my kids young and going through social services and all that kind of stuff, I was always telling that to people. You know with three kids, and twenty years old, I wanted to do what I'm doing right now and no one knew how to get there. Or didn't even have an inkling or could encourage me in that regard and so that's why I pushed ahead to run this Dunwoody Studios and the Four Walls Gallery. I was just telling the older group the other day, I've been blessed to be here to give you some sort of way that things can be done, you can accomplish something. You can become that person that someone has told you, is not possible to be.
Contact Four Walls Gallery at: email@example.com