Photos by Asia Morris.
Shane Sun grew up within the indecisive gap between Long Beach and Los Alamitos, the space that lives between the decidedly straightlaced Orange County and the “very gay and always very weird and creative” place that is our city by the sea, as he would describe his home. Perhaps this upbringing, going back and forth between a high school predominantly attended by students from a more regimented area only to return to the second most diverse city in the nation, Long Beach, created the tension so obviously felt in the artist’s work, where a minimal style meets the loud colors and symbolism of a painter with quite a lot to say.
It’s much more than his formative adolescence, a clash of cultures and classes, that created Sundraws, the moniker Sun goes by to describe his online persona as a visual artist. Sun began drawing as soon as he was “conscious and alive” and started painting at age 14. Large volumes of comic books make up an early stockpile of work Sun couldn’t help but render during classes, while a few employed stints at local art supply stores following his high school career and an eye-opening stretch lived WWOOFing in Oregon (where Sun started an Etsy) have all shaped his current existence as an emerging Long Beach talent.
Running through the artist’s near quarter of a life is a string of constant contemplation, of major self-reflection and philosophical wondering. It shows through in the tiny zines, paintings and murals he’s put out into the world, where an obsession with water, size and scale, the five platonic solids and hand imagery converge in a comprehensive array of works featuring neon pinks, calming blues and a behind-the-scenes tension masked with a Pop Art-esque aesthetic.
As is an arguably common sentiment felt by those of a highly intellectual nature, Sun described himself as feeling like "this perpetual weirdo who just really wants to belong and really wants to connect with people, but I’m so inherently strange and kind of weird that I struggle with it."
But Sun said it must be this feeling that sets himself apart. "People dig when I’m strange and weird through my images," he said. "That’s my means of communicating and connecting with people on that emotional, human level that’s just otherwise untouchable.”
Sun has an inquisitive mind that delves deeply into subjects that most of us would barely take the time to skim over. Hands and water, for two examples, are recurring images throughout the artist’s work. The hands stem from a fascination with the neurological idea of the appendage as a channel, that everything we touch, hold and use with them is interpreted by our brains as a physical part of us.
“What happens is when our hands hold tools, our brain understands that the thing that we are holding is essentially an extension of our body,” he said. “So that’s this weird trip that the things you hold and the things you interact with on a hand-level are you. And you can hold each other’s hands and you two become one. There’s this thing that hands are this ultimate extension of what’s me and what’s everything else.”
During his meeting with the Post, Sun bit down into a piece of toast and laughed. “This avocado toast is me," he said.
Out of Me Becomes You and Emergence, two of the artist’s most recent paintings, show his thoughts on the hand matter as well as the idea of a collective consciousness. Sun remarked how British singer/songwriter FKA Twigs released an album cover conveying a visually similar thought of a hand reaching through her own face, created by London-based artist Matthew Stone. Sun was floored by the similarities.
"Something ties our brains together because humans have this very weird and natural tendency to spontaneously all do the same things all at the same time and it doesn’t make sense to me other than if there was a collective subconscious sharing and exchanging our ideas for us behind the scenes,” he explained.
Water is another fascination altogether, with its movements, ripples and currents clearly seen throughout all of Sun’s drawings and paintings, including Out of Me Becomes You and Emergence. Sun described water as “his big thing,” an obsession, if you will.
“The thing with water is that you can see it, but you also can’t," he said. "It’s inherently a transparent, see-through substance and yet the way in which light bends in it shows blue, which is our sky, too. We’re mostly water, which is also congruent with the percentage that Earth is, which is this weird parallel of the body of Earth and the body of human.”
He started and finished the two pieces in two days and described the artworks as the most important paintings he’s made to date, a two-day moment where the images in his mind translated seamlessly onto the canvas. While Sun called the moment a rarity, perhaps the artist is just now finding a groove in his practice. While stating that everything in his head is "on level 10" and he feels that when he "actually [makes] something it’s level one,” it’s hard to picture what “level 10” might be when “level one” describes a harmony of striking works of all sizes and scales.
Ultimately, Sun wants to travel the world and paint walls, simply put, as opposed to painting on pieces meant to be seen in a traditional gallery space, where the artist’s ownership of the work is all too apparent and necessary to make a profit, at least for his taste. It’s all about communication and ensuring that his work is inclusive to all viewers, not only those who have the time and finances to be a gallery-goer.
“I think it’s a lot of intention and chance and mystery that formulates images,” Sun contemplated. “I hate taking credit for it. I hate being like, ‘That’s my idea and I made it and that’s my piece,’ because I’m really just a human animal taking in stimulus and really enjoying what I see and being very focused on what I’m looking at. And then just everything I look at, I just regurgitate [those] images and ideas. That’s all I’m doing. It’s not even me. I’m just a filter.”
Editor's note: this story has been updated on 8/8/16 at 11:46AM to omit references to facets of the artist's personal life.