AN INTERVIEW WITH MIAMI ARTIST & WRITER STUART SHELDON
By Melanie Oliva
I first stepped into Stuart Sheldon’s “whorled” world at Fancy Nasty two years ago during Art Basel. Stuart and his collaborators transformed a soon-to-be-demolished house in Morningside into a gold-gilded art installation.
My husband and I talked about it for days. It was one of those experiences that made an impact on how I viewed art, collaboration and their limitless potential when combined. I didn’t expect my path to cross with Stuart’s again, but thankfully it did.
The winding road I traveled when forming The Artful Activist was complete with signs telling me where to go. I know enough now to follow them without resisting. Funny that this path of least resistance led me to Stuart and others whose work is most about resistance.
One sign on my journey was so large it was a billboard. Through mutual connection Lisa Predko, I was led to artist Michele Pred, who created a powerful set of thought-provoking billboards last November. They were sponsored by For Freedoms, the first artist-run super-PAC. Several weeks later, while walking through Wynwood on a solo stroll, I found myself in front of Stuart’s mural, also sponsored by For Freedoms. Finally after ending up in Macaya Gallery’s space at SCOPE, where his I’m With The Banned series was featured, I decided to connect with Stuart. I’m so glad I did.
It’s not only Stuart Sheldon’s work that is so inspiring, but also his work ethic. He seems incredibly driven to expose the truths that many cannot see, via his artwork and eloquence. Many communities are lucky to benefit from Stuart’s generous, collaborative spirit, including The Artful Activist.
How do you describe yourself & what you do?
Metaphorically, I’m a chef who finds deep pleasure in the cooking and even greater satisfaction knowing others find meaning, provocation and nourishment in the eating.
What inspired you to get involved in political art? What was your journey like?
My friend, the poet Aja Monet, said it best recently, “It is the duty of artists to make revolution irresistible.” My art has always been intention-based, aimed at manifesting specific outcomes in my personal journey. Early on I painted to find a soul mate, then to have a child. Now, the pitiful state of humanity weighs so deeply on my heart and mind, that I no longer feel compelled to save myself as much as to save the world.
What specific issues do you address with your artwork?
My issues are truth and fairness. My fight is to perfect democracy so that equality becomes implicit. My recent exhibition, I’m With The Banned, focused on the corrosive power of false narratives in political discourse, specifically relating to:
- The Myth of Voter Fraud – which has been used to disenfranchise millions, and though statistically non-existent, is believed to be a problem by 40% of Americans
- Censorship – books have changed my life and when we ban profound works of literature, we stunted progress and wisdom in our society
- Gun Sense Laws – how do we dispel the baffling notion that any safety-driven restriction of access, no matter how reasonable, is a violation of our 2nd Amendment rights?
Have you witnessed your work change or open minds?
I’m With The Banned opened purposely two weeks before the 2016 election – lot of good that did. I do believe my work fuels respectful conversation. The challenge now is getting it out of the echo chamber of my reality and in front of those who do NOT share my worldview. That’s when the work can move the needle and hopefully build bridges.
You’re extremely prolific and determined. What keeps you going?
I revel in the making process, watching something evolve from a revelation to a sketch to an actual thing with layers of meaning. I feel privileged to wake each day able to explore my thoughts in a variety of media, be it painting, installation, magazine columns, my blog. I slogged it out for a long time, as a sales guy and an aspiring artist, so now that people are actually paying attention, my appreciation level is red-lining. I just installed a site-specific work in the lobby of the Dupont Building in downtown Miami. I’m eager to do more of this type of work, that responds to events in real time. My newest project is a TV series called Meet Your Makers coming out this month on PBS. Watch for it on the show Art Loft.
Who have you collaborated with (individuals, collectives and/or organizations)?
Harry Truman really nailed it when he said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” My practice has always been rooted in sharing strengths. I love the genius unicorns at The New Tropic who are my co-conspirators on Meet Your Makers. I was honored when For Freedoms, America’s only artist-run Super-PAC, invited me to join their 100-foot mural activation in Wynwood for the election. I had a blast making Fancy Nasty with my good friends at Primary Projects and The Fountainhead. I’m off to Berlin in May to join forces with a group of cutting-edge digital philosophers called re:publica to present my gun-sense installation and video, “How Was School Today.” And the pipeline for some yet-to-be-announced collaborations is full.
Tell us about your experience with finding gallery representation.
It’s easy. Just toil in obscurity for fifteen years. And the moment you stop giving a shit, and your work matures, galleries start calling you.
What advice do you have for artists? Activists? Gallerists?
The only advice I have for a creative person is to be true to what lies in the deepest part of you. THAT is your truth and that is the most interesting, inspired and inspiring thing you have to say. Say it loud and unapologetically.
What is your biggest fear about the next four years? How do you respond to that fear & what would you like to tell people who may also be fearful?
Life in America is Orwellian right now. Up is down. Black is white. Just this week, the new regime at the EPA voted to relax clean water standards. This is not a liberal or conservative issue; it’s a basic human health issue. And it’s emblematic of the wave of false narratives gutting the soul of America, in this case that “regulations” are inherently bad and profitability trumps poisonous water. I’m all for minimizing bureaucracy, but let’s not commit suicide in the process. Let’s be clear, I am afraid … that our country has been hijacked by bad actors who lack compassion and have mastered the game of messaging. Whoever controls the message controls the future.
Tell us about your show opening this Thursday, March 9th. What do you want viewers to take away from it? Who do you most hope it reaches?
In the work I’m exploring right now, I cut American flags to shreds, deconstruct and then reconstruct them into beautiful new forms. This is both a call to folks to take action, any action, which makes them part of the solution to our current crises. And my wish for our country – that we survive these dark times and come out the other side with an even brighter future. In addition to these flag works, select pieces from both my recent series, I’m with The Banned and The Best Books Ever Written, will be displayed. So you get a juicy taste of what I’ve been cooking up the past two years.
The exhibition opens March 9th, 7:30-10pm and runs through March 30th – Miami Beach JCC, 4221 Pine Tree Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33140. For more info, contact gallery director Karen Sepsenwol email@example.com, 305.534.3206 x214.
See more of Stuart’s incredible work at stuartsheldon.com.