R2D2, Chewbacca, Darth Vader frequently enact classically mundane events from regular life and the galactic history books in the works of Sean Starwars. From his studio, the Woodcut Funhouse in Laurel, Mississippi, the artist operates a global business involving prolific internet and gallery releases of colorful, thickly drawn, and eccentric images.
His practice is much more broad and much less nerdy than the Star Wars stuff would seem to indicate, notably the advancement of woodblock printing as a medium with a super analog technique and a legacy of folksy cultural populism. But ‘tis The Force Awakens season and Starwars knows that Star Wars is all he’s going to get talk about for a while.
“I had already dropped out of two colleges before I found myself in the art building and saw a course description for something called printmaking, and after my first linocut I totally fell in love with the process,” recalls Starwars. “Twentyfive years later that’s pretty much all I do! And of course I was collecting Star Wars stuff even before I became an artist. When the movies came out on VHS I had a year when I watched A New Hope every night as I fell asleep in hopes of having Star Wars dreams, but you know it never worked. A couple years later I started to watch Return of the Jedi every night.”
Starwars non-SW work could easily be about circus freaks, slackers, sentient sausages, robots, and chimerical creatures darkly romping through life’s ups and downs. “I think most of my fans like the more original or culturally obscure stuff I do more than the Star Wars images. But the more obsessed fans of Star Wars or comic culture are attracted to the style and graphic impact that my unusual approach to their familiar world represents.”
As far as The Force Awakens, Starwars is sure he’ll find plenty to respond to from the new movie. “When I saw the trailer that first showed Vader’s twisted, burnt helmet, I couldn’t believe what a powerful, logical artifact that was. I knew the minute I saw it that it was going to be my next woodcut. Twentfour hours later, I drew it, cut it out, printed, posted it online and was already selling the edition.”
He has events, talks, and workshops coming up in the spring in Atlanta, Memphis, and Austin. And he’s still figuring out where to do his 2016 May the 4th / Star Wars Day exhibition. “I’ve done it in Los Angeles and New York; predictably the people in LA were way more into it. I’d really love to have a Star Wars Day exhibition in either Germany or Japan, those two countries have long traditions of woodcut printmaking, and have heavily influenced Star Wars in many ways.”
Well we can’t go without asking which character Starwars thinks he most resembles. “I’d love to say I’m Han Solo, but I’m probably more like Obi Wan. I spend a lot of time alone in my studio practicing the Jedi art of woodcut printmaking; sharpening, reconstructing my chisels as if they were light sabers, and dispensing bits of sage advice to my children.”