The show is called e•mer•gen•ti•a, Medieval Latin for the verb “emergere,” meaning “bring to light.”
That is exactly what Shaughnessy Johnson does when sculpting his work. He works in sandstone and metal cast off from foundries and quarries—bringing to light the forms within.
Shaughnessy grew up in Evanston, Ill. As a young man, he was not like other children; he didn’t care to play with conventional toys—he was into being much more creative. A friend of his father saw this creativity emerge, and placed a paintbrush in his hand. By the age of 10, Shaughnessy had his first show: “Birth of a Painting.”
Later, the sculptor emerged in him. During a high school welding class, he was allowed to choose what he wanted to make; he chose to make an eagle. He was given three weeks to complete the work. At the end of the three weeks, he had only completed one wing. That one wing was deemed worthy of more time; his teacher gave him the rest of the year. Upon completion, the school bought the work as the senior class gift of 1990.
After such auspicious beginnings, he went on to work as a high school newspaper illustrator and T-shirt designer. When looking for a college, he chose Tuskegee University, in Tuskegee, Ala. There he discovered a quote by Booker T. Washington: “Dig deep down into the soil of Tuskegee, and utilize its resources to build a future.”
Utilizing resources became the cornerstone of his work. He used clay and stones from the riverbeds around Tuskegee, and core sand from the 57th Street Foundry in Chicago to sculpt. Since then, actor Danny Glover, U.S. Chief Justice Clarence Thomas and basketball legend Michael Jordan have all become collectors of his sculptures.
Four years passed at Tuskegee; afterwards, he went on to the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He then took eight years off in order to work for his dad’s construction company. At one point, Johnson also lived in Amsterdam for a while, until moving to Atlanta in 1998 to be near his family. The body of work on display in Gallery 88 was created in the last year.
Shaughnessy was commissioned by actor Wesley Snipes to create sculptures for films in Hollywood. The company was called Amen-Ra Films—they rented various art works to studios to show in movies. There he functioned as art consultant, curator and artist.
The director of promotions and outreach for WUWF Public Media, Lynne V. Marshall, described how Shaughnessy was chosen for a show at Gallery 88: “As director of the gallery, I’m always on the lookout for interesting work. I met Shaughnessy through a mutual friend, Lisa Puzon, a painter from Atlanta whose work was shown in Gallery 88 several years ago. Lisa and I are on the board of a non-profit called Wings to the Spirit, which encourages the arts in service to humanity. Every two years we hold an arts conference at Pensacola Beach. Lisa suggested Shaughnessy as a workshop leader at our May 2010 conference. The theme of the conference was “Transforming Vision”: out of the darkness, into the visible world. It was at the conference that Shaughnessy began the piece that initiated this body of work.
“From all of the pieces that I have seen in person or in photos, I believe this particular body of work speaks to both personal transformation (in every sense and meaning from intellectual to spiritual) as well as the transformation of works of art from the imagination of the artist to the concrete form.”
Marshall also commented on what it means to have a show like this in Pensacola. “Shaughnessy is a very talented sculptor who had a lot of early success and withdrew from the art world for a time. I think he has a very finely-tuned sense of self and personal integrity, which made him seek his own balance. But the thing for an artist is that even if you are not showing your work, the work will get out. Gallery 88 is very fortunate to be hosting the first viewing of this particular group of pieces.”
When asked what is next for him, Shaughnessy explained, “After the Pensacola show I will be traveling back to Chicago. I am involved in the gallery district there.”
Marshall added, “It can be enjoyed on so many different levels—from the intrinsic meaning to the extrinsic simple beauty—there is something for everyone to relate to.”