Interview on Online Art

OA: What is your favourite film of all time?


SS: One of my favorite films of all time is The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. The original novel was written by Stephen King. What stands out in my mind is the play of isolation, increasing madness and supernatural possession. The little boy, Danny, in the movie has an imaginary friend who acts out the fear of this massive hotel that is possessed and has many mysterious murders over its long history.

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The hotel was built on Indian burial grounds and has the motives throughout the hotel in the carpeting and decor. The scale of the hotel and living there alone is well captured by the scenes of Danny riding his Big Wheel through the corridors of the hotel and the scene of Jack, the husband, throwing a ball against the walls of a massive room as he stirs in boredom and writer’s block.


Besides the slow build-up in terror, mystery and later horror, Kubrick was able to take a popular novel based on a possessed hotel to a blend of natural break-down of human nature in isolation with the illusion of a possessed hotel, which drives a fine line begging the question: was Jack delusional or possessed by the Shining? Of course, I have painted a work dedicated to The Shining, “Overlook Hotel, Maui”.


OA: What music are you currently listening to and why?

SS: Right now I generally listen to electronic music streamed on My brother introduced me to the station and I actively use it to paint my work with. I originally got into House dance music in Chicago and later Trance as a bartender in Germany. Another genre of music to paint by is very aggressive rock or death metal even to stir the rawest emotions into the passion of the painting.

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Just the other day I was painting to Tool, which I hadn’t really heard before while painting. In my youth and even now, one of my favorite bands is Nine Inch Nails. I grew up with my mother always crying over lost jobs with her flawed personality driving her failure, so this type of depressing, suicidal music really pierces my soul and allows me to purge those memories. The weird thing is after listening to NIN, I feel happy inside from releasing the inner demons to rage awhile. I think I’ll play some today while I paint.

OA: Which living artists do you most admire and why?


SS: I would say Shephard Fairey. He took his art to the streets to get the visual feedback of what worked and didn’t in his work. At the same time, he strove to address the littered landscape of advertising: bill boards, subway ads and bus stop ads to subvert them to his OBEY campaign, which exposes the hypocrisy of police chasing down graffiti artists while protecting advertisers to shout their message to the masses endless with corporate money. Another interesting angle was how he repackaged various politicians into new ways to expose or even make fun of the propaganda, which is basically repeated, unchallenged art with message. I do have mixed emotions of using dictators such as Saddam Hussein, Stalin or Lenin in posters with a neutral message. I lived in Communist Poland a year and saw how an autocratic regime tarnishes the masses, belittles opponents and smashes political opposition with jail, prison or even death. I don’t believe these types of leaders should be positioned neutrally. In my work, I actively pursue revolution against these types of regimes like in China and Russia currently.


OA: Which deceased artist do you most admire and why?

SS: This is a tough choice. So much great art and artists. One that sticks in my mind was Picasso. He evolved over several painting styles: blue period, pink period, cubism and later social realism. This is the essence of an artist, to continually explore and push the limits of art. He even painted a massive painting dedicated to the fascist bombing of Guernica during Spain’s Civil War, which precluded the coming atrocities in WWII. He kept this painting out of Spain until Franco, the dictator, died, which was a very, very long time. In essence, he outlived Franco barely to keep this treasure out of Spain until democracy returned. Of course the reality is Franco would likely have destroyed the work, since he used Nazi airpower to win the Civil War. Like any artist, he was flawed in his relationships and I believe he went astray painting the socialist realism after cubism. This paralleled the art world in closed Communist countries, which I find disturbing with the tinge of the gulag attached to this propaganda style. Another reason to respect Picasso and why he was so famous, he lived in the great art capitals of his day: Paris and later New York City. One of the reasons artists become famous is simply by being where the action is. He showed complete devotion to his talent with all else secondary, he lived for the art world. People reward this.


OA: Which exhibition that you have visited made the greatest impact on you and why?

SS: Easy. The Guernica. Picasso painted this right after the bombing of civilians in Guernica, the first civilian air raid, capturing the cruelty of modern air warfare in a massive scene all in black and white. It was kept out of Spain until the fall of Franco, which gets to the heart of being Spanish — respect and honor to the end. The painting was right in his maximum successful period of cubism, so is beautiful in this light as well and capturing the horror of war. I have seen it several times while studying art as a student living in Spain. This is the essence of painting, to capture the audience, expose injustice, have an amazing story and even outside story of keeping it out of the country until Franco’s death.


You can literally feel the arch of the Civil War in this painting and the paintings life outside of Spain as an emigre as well. Art should change the world and in many cases does not, this work did.

OA: What is the question you get asked most frequently about your work and how do you answer it?

SS: Usually it is about the process as I work in three different styles: Free Form Abstract, Architectural Abstraction and Political Pop. One version of my abstract I use pure metal tools on wood panels similar to how Gehard Richter paints his massive abstracts.


I have a passion of finding where the paint will take me and combine. The second style is Architectural Abstraction. This style developed from my more angular style I first used into a highly structured 30 degree, 60 degree and 90 degree style with various planes of color fighting for dominion in the work.


My third style is Political Pop, currently my favorite to explain, since each work has a distinct message and story. These works deal with political injustice, crimes against humanity and an artist’s struggle to change the world through art.


One of my largest works “303 Signatures” deals with the rise of Charter 08 in China and the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo for merely crafting this declaration of rights. It has all the 17 points of the petition to the government covering political freedom, freedom of expression, religion, etc. all in 76 hanzi, which alludes to 1776, the year of US declaration of independence. Along the frame I have most of the 303 signatures, about 900 hanzi characters. Keep in mind I speak no Mandarin, so this was really challenging work. Now over 13,000 people have signed it and the writer won the Nobel Peace Prize and was rewarded with 11 years in prison. I plan to keep this work out of China until the fall of Communism there.

OA: What / who inspired you to be an artist?

SS: There are many people. My mother took me to several art classes in my youth and was an excellent musician in her own right. In college, I was inspired to be taught under the late Tom Thomas. He would paint his own contemporary art right in class, so we could immediately leap frog to the latest style, which I later did. He organized great art competitions for the students with outside competition, so we learned the world of art very intimately. Additionally, his model would paint in class as well, so we saw her erotic paintings, which was one of the best learning experiences.


Another inspiration would be Van Gough, since he persevered despite his mental lunacy that drove away his own customers, artist friends and gallerists. This is amazing to have lived so passionately in your art despite really gaining nothing materially. It is also very foolish not to learn how to communicate, but all artists have some flaws, some larger than others.

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OA: Can you tell us about where you make your art and what if any the significance of this location is?

SS: Currently, I paint at 4th Street Fine Art in Berkeley. It is an artist studio/gallery, which is kind of unique as most places are either studios or galleries. The advantage here is the ability to learn other artist styles as well as how to market better as a group. Working in a group is crucial for any artist to be able to stay on top of his field, constantly learning and debating the finer points of art making, selling and marketing. The physical space is pretty amazing with windows on 3 sides, so the natural light really pours in, which is very important to understand the richness of the colors and subtlety between shades. Close by is an Indian burial ground under a parking lot. The original building was occupied by Brennans, a tavern that was started back in 1958. They got moved down the block. So we likely have some ghosts like in the Shining.

OA: What do you like most about being an artist?

SS: One of the great pleasures of being an artist is exploring the world of art, painting and meeting people. In my current location, we regularly get to meet people browsing and explain how a work is developing. It is very exciting to get behind the scenes with clients on the process. Another great characteristic, is you are leaving a legacy. If you get to a certain level of fame in your lifetime, your work will literally live for centuries as your work is talked about and discussed. I believe this is very important to impact your world for as long as possible. What better way to live than enrich your descendants long after you have lived your own life?

OA: What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?

SS: I believe being part of the Peace Project is my highest achievement for an artist show. This project was based on the wish raise awareness of the ravages of war on civilians and try to make a difference via art charity. One project helped distribute 10,000 crutches to victims of Sierra Leone’s war. As an art event, my work travelled to 8 major US cities: Oakland, Culver City, Chelsea, Dallas, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Santa Ana and Long Beach. Another great project I worked on was Adult Day Services twice for art donations. They serve the Oakland community of elders in their final years. Another great achievement was my invitation to go to the Art Dubai festival, which unfortunately I turned down due to the expense of flying. My first far show was in Miami, which was the most exciting to see my work up in a gallery so far away in Nina Torres Fine Art.

OA: What are your plans for the coming year?

SS: I likely will continue working with the Peace Project, Adult Day Services and other art charities to expand my reach to the community. So far as an artist, I have done a show in LA, which was my first physical onsite tour of my work. That was fairly exciting meeting new clientele in a completely different art market. It definitely opened my eyes up to the possibility. My goal this year is to be in several galleries outside of the San Francisco area. I also want to have some major art sales as well and gain income from it.

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Interview on “Killer Cowboy Clouds”


So why did you decide to paint the Marlboro man?

I had smoked 13 years previously and thought it would be an honor to Marlboro cowboy billboard ads that got me hooked. My father and brother both smoked.  My father got throat cancer from smoking 15 years.  I think my brother may die eventually of some cigarette related cancer.

Why did you choose Marlboro man vs. Joe Camel or other famous cigarette ads?

Well, Marlboro had essentially 1% of the market, selling only to women, moved to dominate the market place as number one after the cowboy billboard ads.  Later as the governments started to ban most forms of advertising, this just allowed Marlboro to be unchallenged for number one.  Camel Joe is an interesting image as well since most children can readily identify him instantly.  This suggests Camel may come to dominate in the near future the next generation of smokers.

Which brand dominated before Marlboro man came along?

I believe it was Lucky Strike.

What about the surge of vapor smoking?
I think the Marlboro, Lucky Strike and other traditional cigarette brands are in possible deep trouble since there is no limit on vaper smoking indoors and the advertising as well.  The worst advertising is one you cannot compete against say on TV and radio.  Additionally, this type of smoking is a bit healthier since they eliminate the tar and is mostly nicotine.

So what happened to the original Marlboro man?

Four of the real cowboys that starred as Marlboro man died of related smoking diseases.  This led to the name “Cowboy Killers”.

Why do you have other people in the background?

Besides tobacco companies, many other groups promoted smoking and profited it from it.  One of the obvious pairings was Hollywood from James Dean to Marilyn Monroe to Madonna to Jack Nicholson to Schwarzenegger to Sharon Stone. Other groups include musicians like Snoop Dogg and Bob Marley. Other artists behind the trend include

But beside blaming the music industry, Hollywood and pop artists, politicians are a major driver of encouraging smoking:
– Barack Obama
– Jack Kennedy
– Che Guevarra
– Fidel Castro
– Mao
– Lenin
– Stalin
– Winston Churchill
– Franklin Roosevelt
– Ayn Rand
Some of the worst part of the political connection was the politicians passing a draft and then encouraging soldiers to smoke with free tobacco and lighters.  The tobacco industry got tobacco included in soldier rations for WW2. Before the knowledge of the connection of smoking to disease and government regulation, cigarette makers like Lucky Strike used doctors and dentists to recommend smoking.
What happened to the original blog with images?
Well, do you think the tobacco industry sits on its hands? It had all my links dropped for copyright violation. So you see the power of these guys trying to expose its role models to pitch this drug.

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Snopes TV

Phillip Morris


Lucky Strikes

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Review of “The Matrix” movie and sequels


Why did you like this film?

Its one of the few films where you are expected to be smart and follow the in depth philosophical questions of life and battles of societies of robots vs. humanity.  Additionally, the movie takes itself seriously as if this were reality, which I enjoy tremendously.

What are the philosophies debated in the film?

In the first film, it is the debate of what is our reality and are our sensations really the reality of the world.  Could a smart enough artificial intelligence design a complete enough world to fool the human mind and body?  They bring up smart remarks like chicken tasting like chicken.


Another important question it brings up is how far you can push yourself or be pushed around by life.  The majority of society kind of goes with the flow to succeed while the select few chose to rebel and actually succeed in spite of life’s challenges.


How well were the other two films shot? 

I think the directors did a great job in the quality of the fight scenes and philosophical debates.  On the other hand, by the third film the main character is flying around and one of the robot is self replicating, which seems a bit of a stretch of reality.  They are also great films, but very dependent on thoroughly understanding the first film.


What new elements did they bring in the second two films?

One is the debate of cause and effect vs. the option of choice.  Many humans simply react like animals in Pavlov’s experiment while the select few can chose to not react to pain or the situation they are in.

This last point is very encapsulating.  I also found a similar theme in WWII with Viktor Frankl, who went to the concentration camps despite having an exit to honor his parent who could not escape.  He wrote and rewrote his book several times on being able to remain human despite living in subhuman conditions in the camp system.  This is the ultimate power each one of has, but may never act on. Below is my work about him using his number tattooed into his arm by the Nazi guards.


Are you working on a painting related to the movie?

Stay tuned.  I am very close to completely a work.  My work takes the movie plus our current political environment in the cyber war unfolding between the great powers. Another debate is the right to steal from the hacker world vs. the value of property rights in the West. Which should win out?

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Review of Zero Dark Thirty



So what did you think of the movie in general?

I think it was fascinating to see the actual techniques used to break the captives surrounding Osama bin Laden’s group al Queda.  The movie avoids the political events since 2011 for the most part, which was likely necessary due to compressing 10 years to 2 hours.  I would have liked to have seen more of the back stage decisions influencing the team like the move from Bush to Obama.  There was a strip down of the Bush impact on the hunt of Osama in the movie, which I think would have framed the movie more concretely.

Is this just a snuff film? Is it relevant as a “normal” movie?

Yes, this definitely has the quality of a snuff movie of an actual real-life person boiled down to his decisions as a terrorist.  Same thing could be said about the Passion done by Gibson as well, which was used to convert guilty Rome to Christianity.  Out of the historical context, the movie will be highly watched long-term as it captures good drama and story-telling, but you know the ending…. spoiler alert.

Is there any positive take-aways from the movie seen as it is the hunt for a terrorist and the use of torture by the pursuers?

Yes, the movie does a great job of establishing the fact that the CIA used/uses torture to get information during the hunt of Osama, so you get the feel there is no redemption for any of the characters.

You do get the feel of the persistence of both sides of the battle.  On one side, you can see how deviously Osama was able to maintain contact with his group, stay funded and help plan future events while putting up a great smoke screen to prevent his discovery for a very long time.  On the US side, you see the persistence of the team members to continue the investigation in the face of poisoning their own character via torture, death of friends and personal threat of danger.  These people made a conscious decision to live as a soldier or CIA member, which characterizes them for life.

Do you believe this is the ending of the terrorism saga from 2011?

Sadly, no.  As we killed Osama, there may arise another group in the next 10 years that strives for vengeance.  If you realize that Clinton accidently shot down an Iranian civilian airline in the 1988 and then al Queda appears all of a sudden, you can see the government connection there.  I mean hiding out for years requires careful planning and continual financial funding.  So some government is behind his group more than likely.  Iran makes sense, as we overthrew the Shaw in 1953, they took US hostages in 1979, Iranian airline shot down in 1988, US funding Saddam to gas Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war, 9/11 and now the death of Osama.  It seems to fit well in the cycle of long-term hatred and misunderstanding between these cultures.  Many of the weapons in Syria are funded by Iran and we are now attacking their nuclear facilities virtually and economically, so the cycle continues.  The cycle will likely continue until one side declares and wins an all-out war similar to what happened to Germany and Japan in WWII.

The movie is directed by a woman.  Did you see an impact of that feminine voice?

Definitely, in the lead character being a woman investigator.  It was shocking to find out that many of the lead CIA investigators were in fact women.  What I thought was great regardless of the gender impact, was the character development.  You feel, drink and eat these characters.  It was not a white wash simplification, but at the same time not too much dialogue to bog down the film flow. I definitely am a new fan of Kathryn Bigelow. I was also amazed that originally she was a painter.  Some of the scenes definitely have that quality of careful study and playing with the scene until it came off right– only painting can teach you that dedication to the process.  Also the film flow has that lost feel as the detectives floundered looking for the leads of Osama, which has the same feel you do as you paint and wander across the canvas until the final image just pops into your mind.


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Interview on ‘Darkside of Delhi and the Death of Pi’


So what do you think sparked you to paint on the Delhi rape?

This particular case hit very close to home. When I was younger, there was a dramatic rape-killing in my neighborhood in which I knew both the victim, victim’s family and the perpetrator and his family. It was devastating to see such a horrid scene at a young age and lose trust in friends.

Why do you have such brilliant colors in your painting on a tragic event?

Well, if you study a bit on the people, the clothing is extremely colorful and beautiful during festivals. Additionally, many of the shanty towns try to paint in festive colors. To me the colors just represent the gay, colorful side of India. It represents the possibilities the victim had before the crime took her life. If you ever get to go to the Diwali festival, people wear beautiful traditional clothing and look like princes and princesses. There is also a famous holiday of Holi in which people run around town throwing color upon each other, so the whole town looks like an explosion of color.

Do you think this event will change attitudes in India towards rape?

This is a difficult question to answer. Unfortunately, the only way to get the change is from protesting such terrible crimes as these. Many cultures have paternal, traditional values of ownership and limited freedom of women that leads to accepting rape when traveling publicly. In any country at any time there is a danger for women, the challenge is to make it unacceptable and increase the safety of women in public to limit the occurances of these crimes. I hope that people will sign the petition below to gather support in India for new laws to help protect women:



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How an artist’s death impacts selling prices

I always wondered about this question myself, since every artist assumes people make the most right upon his death. Here is Alan’s take on the subject:

Q: I bought six paintings from a pretty well-known local artist over a twenty year period during his career. He’s pretty old now and I’m starting to think about selling. When’s the best time to do that? Should I wait until after he dies? Will I make more money that way?

A: That’s a pretty mercenary question but unfortunately, people ask it all the time. The prevailing notion in many parts of artland is that art prices do go up when an artist dies, as if death trips some kind of mystical instant inflation switch. And it’s a belief– or should I let the proverbial cat out of the bag and say myth– that’s perpetuated in large part by greedy dealers and galleries, particularly in the commercial realm, who’ll say anything to make a quick buck off of naive buyers. That’s right… the answer in this artist’s case and in the huge majority of cases out there is that an artist’s death has little if any impact on the selling prices, dollar values or “investment potential” (I hate that phrase) of their art.

You see, most artists age gracefully over time and gradually taper off in terms of production as they get older. In fact, a significant number of artists stop making art altogether, sometimes well in advance of their departures to that great art studio in the sky. Increases in the values of their art take place slowly, sensibly, deliberately and in an orderly manner over decades, and anyone who understands the art market and who seriously follows the lives and careers of these artists understands that. Their eventual passings come as absolutely no surprise to anyone and consequently, there’s no upheaval anywhere to be concerned about. Galleries continue selling, collectors continue buying, and prices continue doing whatever the were doing in the same orderly fashion as before the sad news.

Now there are isolated instances when death significantly impacts an artist’s price structure, but a specific set of conditions must be in place for that to happen. First, the artist has to be relatively famous or well-known in certain circles, and their art has to be relatively expensive and in demand among collectors. Second– and here’s the biggie– they have to die prematurely and unexpectedly, thereby catching the marketplace totally by surprise. When that happens, a sort of panic or temporary insanity sets in. Basically, dealers and collectors get caught off guard, everyone scrambles for the artist’s art and prices spike upward. Those upward spikes, far more often than not, are based on profiteering, greed, panic, ignorance, impulse, emotion, and people trying to get over on each other with “better buy now or else” fairytales. As for the facts of the matter, they take a temporary hiatus. In the months immediately following the deaths of Warhol and Basquiat, for example, their prices went through arbitrary and irrational phases before gradually settling back to sensibility. Even Warhol’s personal effects were bid into the ionosphere at that famed 1987 Sotheby’s auction, epitomized by buyers paying many thousands of dollars each for vintage cookie jars that under normal circumstances might have sold for $50 or $100 or so. These days, in fact, you can literally witness the “death effect” among buyers and sellers on websites like eBay when celebrities pass on or are heavily featured in the news for one reason or another. The profit vultures barf their memorabilia up for auction in hopes of making a quick buck while the body’s still warm.

But wait; there’s more. Just in case you’re one of those multitudes who believe that art prices can only go up, there are certain instances when an artist’s prices can actually drop when they pass away. For example, estate executors or family members may mismanage an artist’s estate by dumping all the art on the market at once and as a result, temporarily depress prices because supply becomes significantly greater than demand. Another reason for a price drop is when collectors patronize an artist based more on personality, public profile, flamboyance, social contacts, or sales skills than for the quality of their art. With the artist’s number one promoter gone– namely the artist– their art prices fall flat. A case in point would be that of Pascal Cucaro, a colorful San Francisco artist whose prices topped out in the range of $50,000 while he was at his peak in the 1950s and 1960s, whereas today, prices for his paintings typically hover in the low to mid hundreds of dollars, only occasionally surpassing the $1000 mark.

So getting back to you and your financial planning, your main concern with respect to the paintings you own might be whether the artist’s family or executors are planning on liquidating large portions of his work within a reasonably short period after his death. Chances of this happening are remote, but if it’ll make you sleep better at night, check with dealers or others who either represent or are close to the artist and get their prognosis on the situation. Or if you’re feeling exceptionally rude, ask the artist himself. Enjoy your profits.

Keys to Success: What does a professional artist do?

ShawN shawN • Good question Jason. I would say that there are several keys to become successful as an artist.

One thing is to start out reasonably priced to break into the market. I started out very low priced on eBay to gain some national attention and then moved to the gallery market. After you get a good feel for how it works with a local gallery, I would definitely try to break into other city markets as you may be more successful elsewhere vs. your home market or find out you can sell for more because of that other market. I know comparing San Francisco to LA, there is about a 7 fold increase in prices and competition is tougher, but it likely pays more to ship and get into LA vs. my home market in San Francisco.

Two, is as Rani stated, you need to be gallery-friendly. I know of several artists that are difficult to work with and are just burning bridges. Remember, usually galleries are one of the best places to be sold in as they tend to market for you while you are at your day job. Galleries that are taken well care of will promote you better and give you insight into which style of yours is more sellable.

Three, is great marketing. Many artists want to focus only on the creativity and then let the gallery handle sales. Galleries can do a lot of marketing, but they need marketing you develop a bit to sell from. Additionally, you can drive a lot of customers to the gallery by having a great website yourself and a link to that gallery. You need to have a social media presence and do SEO research. If your website is not optimized for google, then people may go to someone else’s site after you promoted yourself to look on google. I personally have multiple free art websites in addition to my own and strive to dominate the first page of google with my name, so people don’t even know there are other ShawNshawNs in the world.

Four, is great relationships. You need to be regularly meeting other artists to learn your craft as well as networking for future art events. A lot of times this will feel like a waste of time, but you would be surprised at what types of connections you are building for the future. Remember, when a curator is looking for a new batch of artists, they usually pick friends as well as talented artists. So being friends with multiple art resources help you rise to the top beyond what your raw talent in art is.

Fifth, is talent. Marketing is definitely more important than talent, but you still need talent. You want to be studying art trends, up and coming artists and well-established artists and art as well. All this study will lead you to do better composition, color combinations, know the direction of art styles and see where your art fits in. Your art does not work in a vacuum and is competing with all the other art out there. Make sure you are unique, but still sellable.

Sixth is originality. If you are just copying other popular artists, then you never are going to reach upper ranks if this is your goal. You need to be able to break through with a new style at some point to have staying power and create value for collectors.