ART AND THE CITY: JAY SHINN
Alex Irrera, Civic Art + Design Collections Coordinator
As Houston’s local arts agency, Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) is tasked with managing and leading public art projects across the city of Houston—from commissioning new permanent public art, to animating public spaces through temporary art, to conserving art in the City of Houston art collection for future generations to enjoy.
This past September, Jay Shinn and HAA completed the installation of Shinn’s two new permanent light-based works in Bush Intercontinental Airport Terminal D. A few months ago, Shinn spoke with HAA Collection Coordinator Alex Irrera over the phone to discuss his practice and the new enormous, shifting, and mesmerizing pieces: Celestial Candyland and Candyland Landing.
Read their phone conversation below.
Alex: Thank you for reading, Houston! My name is Alex Irrera and I’m the Civic Art + Design Collection Coordinator at Houston Arts Alliance. Joining me today is Bush Intercontinental Airport artist Jay Shinn. Jay, welcome.
Jay: Thank you.
Alex: Let’s begin by talking a little bit about your artistic practice. Could you briefly discuss the themes and questions you are interested in exploring through your work?
Jay: Since an early age, I’ve basically worked in geometrical abstraction. I started out as a painter, but now my practice has gone more towards installation work and working with light. For the last five years, I’ve been working with projected light on painted walls. I’m working somewhat architecturally, which is something that I’ve done pretty much all my life—I’ve been involved in construction sites, etc. I guess that’s one thing that made this project in Terminal D a fit for me. I really had the opportunity to visually build something—putting it together through the architectural means and geometrical abstraction that tie back to my studio practice. I often change materials that I work with. Changing materials really allows my ideas the chance to push into areas that I might not otherwise go into…The work that I’m doing now often touches on a bit of illusion, as well drawing inspiration from architecture and nature. It ties back into art history with mural painting and illusion.
Alex: That description actually relates to your new works in Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal D, titled Candyland Landing and Celestial Candyland. Could you describe the works for us?
Jay: The terminal is actually about 500 feet long, so I came up with a two part mural installation. One part is Celestial Candyland. It’s on the left side and is about 150 feet long by 15 feet high. Then there is Candyland Landing on the right, which is 45 feet long by 15 feet high. They are cousin pieces that visually reference each other. They are made with light that is projected onto a printed material. This printed material on the wall forms the part of the illusion that is static. Its colors—blue and orange—are derived from the sky. The projected sequence is on a 3-minute loop. It changes colors very slowly, which alters the illusion of the work and the space.
Alex: What qualities of the space of Terminal D did you have to take into consideration while designing these works? What challenges did the space offer?
Jay: The overall scale of the space was a challenge. I went out several times and visited the terminal, before I was able to get any ideas down on paper. The space is somewhat overwhelming. There are 60-foot ceilings and—again—the room is about 500 feet long. When we started, it was a very grey and dark space. The lighting was dim in the terminal. The airport added some lights when we working there. This made the space little brighter, but did not affect the sculpting of the projected light on the piece. The rectangular grid that the work sits on is also something that was taken into consideration in the design.
Alex: Can you offer some insight into the naming of the two works?
Jay: I came up with titles that I felt like described the origin thoughts of the works’ design—how they refer to the sky and aeronautical space. The two titles—Celestial Candyland and Candyland Landing—reference a colorful headland or a world of atmospheric happiness. They are optimistic about embarking on a long plane ride and a successful landing. The names are also lifted from a favorite board game—Candy Land—that I played back in the 1960s as a child.
Alex: What special qualities of artworks incorporating light and movement, such as yours, do you believe can bring to a public space?
Jay: In most public and commercial spaces there is so much visual stimulation. The passengers that pass through the terminals are basically entrenched in media (in the form of advertisement), directional signs, and a lot of electronics. There is a place for works like Celestial Candyland and Candyland Landing in an airport, especially for people who are starting international travel. Looking at these artworks gives people time to rest and reflect as they are standing and waiting in the ticket counter line. The works are also meant to be seen spur of the moment as people walk through the terminal. The motion in the work helps to compete with the electronics in the terminal. It holds people’s attention and lets them think for a moment as they walk through the space.
Alex: Jay, the staff here at Houston Arts Alliance are so thrilled so have Celestial Candyland and Candyland Landing up and running—as well as to have them joining the other works in the City of Houston Art Collection. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. For all of you out readers, stay tuned in to hear more new public art popping up around the city of Houston.
About Jay Shinn
Born in Magnolia, Arkansas and educated at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and Memphis College of Art, Jay Shinn is an artist seeking to “expand upon a vocabulary based on geometrical abstraction.” Shinn divides his time and practice between Dallas, Texas and New York City.
For more information on Jay’s City of Houston Art Collection pieces and the work of Houston Arts Alliance, visit http://www.houstonartsalliance.com.