Our relationship with cloth is visceral and primal -- we are swaddled in it at birth and aside from a caregiver’s embrace, fabric is our first experience with touch and comfort. Who of us, in times of turmoil, has not pulled the covers over our head, or wrapped ourselves in a loved one’s shirt, sweater, or scarf? To be covered is to be comforted, protected, and hidden. To wit, cloak is both a garment and an action to shield from sight.


MODERNISM is pleased to present its fourth solo exhibition of contemporary American painter Shawn Huckins. If I’m Home, Find Me Here employs modern fabrics painted over traditional American portraiture to explore questions surrounding what, how much, and how well we share and hide.


In these hand-painted recreations of historic works, fabrics are staged on a model in the studio, lit from the same direction and with the same temperature as the light source in the original painting, then drawn into the final composition. Bold, bright, and colorful fabrics cover all, or significant portions of the portrait. Viewers get few clues about the sitters, save an exposed hand, piece of jewelry, or beloved pet, all superficial details chosen to be revealed. Only in a painting’s title do we learn the subject’s identity, anything more that might be known about these people remains hidden beneath piles of cloth and clothing so ubiquitous it could be our own. 


Regarding concealment, Huckins says, “We use cloth to conceal, but also to express, selectively, based on how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us. Of course, we don’t express all facets of our identity, some things we hold near out of habit, nature, or fear of ridicule.” If I’m Home, Find Me Here gives us the opportunity to question the security of our own concealments. What are we concealing from ourselves and others? What would it mean for the parts we conceal to be exposed? How would others react to our dirty laundry?


Portraits of unnamed noblewomen, originally portrayed by painters like Jean-Marc Nattier and Godfrey Kneller, see the addition of towering fabric obscuring the sitters’ faces. Paintings such as Pride Portrait II (after Mengs) shroud the subject while simultaneously supplying information about them. Draping the subject’s face with a Pride flag, rainbow cloth, and various garments suggests identifying characteristics for the unidentified sitter. This leaves us wondering what is hidden and what might be revealed should the fabrics fall, but also probes on how our perception of these subjects might change once uncovered and which subjects we’d prefer to be.


On the origin of this body of work, Huckins shares, “Like most people, the global pandemic made me re-think my life goals and what I truly value. I was at a point in my career where I needed to be re-energized by painting again. During the first COVID lockdowns, we couldn’t leave the house and most businesses were closed. To pass the time, I started painting the patterns of my wardrobe, which consists of bold, plaid patterns, to create small, abstract paintings. This exercise was the complete opposite of what I was painting at the time and I found it to be fun, yet challenging. I wanted to combine these experimental paintings with my usual portraits, so I started combining the contemporary fabrics over top historical paintings.”


Though the introduction of contemporary fabric is a new direction for artist Shawn Huckins, obscurity of the subject is not a new practice. Selective presentation of the subject was previously utilized in the series of work presented at Huckins’ second MODERNISM exhibition Fool’s Gold (2018), where the subjects of historical paintings are obscured by the addition of Adobe Photoshop’s erasure indicator, a grey-and-white checkerboard pattern. While Fool’s Gold draws attention to the obscurity of our nation’s history, If I’m Home, Find Me Here speaks to concealment of the individual’s identity, making this series Huckins’ most intimate yet.


SHAWN HUCKINS (born 1984, Laconia New Hampshire) currently resides in the bucolic Monadnock region of southwestern New Hampshire. His work has been exhibited internationally and is displayed in collections of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA, The Tucson Museum of Art, The TIA Collection, and The Vicki Myhren Gallery at The University of Denver.


Shawn Huckins press release 2020

[Forbes] Figurative-Paintings-Meet-Digi Culture

Shawn HUCKINS press release