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These Abstract Paintings Are Made by Slashing Blades Across Canvas

Shannon Finley’s large abstract works vibrate with tension.
Shannon Finley, Debug, 2016. Acrylic on linen. 55 x 70 ¾ inches. All images courtesy the artist and Carrie Secrist Gallery.

The future of art will live in the spaces between analog and digital, static and dynamic, and information and memory.  Berlin-based artist Shannon Finley’s large paintings, titled Interference, at Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago, highlight both the tensions and exciting possibilities that exist within his widening expanses.

Finley draws upon a combination of physical techniques, technology, and his own invention to create the works. The paint itself is dichotomous, mixing acrylic gels with natural minerals sourced from Japan.


“I start the background with like a very bright neon,” Finley tells The Creators Project. These cores propel the paintings. “You see the neons always kind of glowing through, or the colors glowing through. That came from me just looking at, where do images get there power from these days?”

Shannon Finley, Lost in the Waves, 2016. Acrylic on linen. 82 ⅝ x 66 ⅞ inches. 

He found his answer in the stained glass windows of European churches. The backlighting from the sun provided the “special effect” which elevated the image beyond what it could have achieved alone. “This light shining behind the stained glass window is almost the exact same as having a pixel with a backlit LCD,” Finley says. “It's very similar, even though it's 3,000 years apart. It's the same essential idea.”

Interference builds upon the rhombus-heavy infrastructures of digital art and information, as well as wave forms inspired by synthesizers and medical imaging devices. Finley tapes out each shape, then begins the painstaking process of painting them.The works appear backlit by bright neons, and shimmer with an ethereal iridescence reminiscent of polarized sunglasses, motorcycle windscreens, and pearls. The paintings hover between the naturalistic—the rippling, bait ball effect of Lost in the Waves—and the futuristic (a piece called Debug is built with the angular skeletons of digital animation; a histological study of corrupted computer code).

Shannon Finley, Ultrasound, 2016. Acrylic on linen. 55 x 70 ¾ inches. 

“Once I get the drawings, it's really about at least four months of intuitive work every day,” Finley says. The layers take time, even if the concept is relatively formed in his head. There are up to 40 layers in some of the paintings. He applies a thick layer of paint before scraping it away with custom-designed blades.


He says, “I made a lot of knives, stainless steel knives with an L-bracket to grab on to, sharpened them up almost like samurai blades—You can cut yourself on them. I can then get into subtle elements of applying a lot of pressure to remove a lot of the paint, or leave a lot on and block out the other layers.”

Shannon Finley, Detector, 2016. Acrylic on linen. 82 ⅝ x 66 ⅞ inches. 

Finley rehearses the movements he is going to make with the blade, incorporating a hidden dance element into the paintings; the motion is perceptible in the final works. The blades on canvas express the tension between the static and kinetic, while the lack of brushstrokes and perfect lines bring computers to mind.

Inspired by Cubism and Futurism, Interference is informed by the writings of futurist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzwiel's theories on artificial intelligence surpassing human intelligence struck a chord with Finley. The resultant works, however, are chimeric and alive—far from the dystopian future so popular in media and the rote cleanliness of a Silicon Valley.

“Once I stopped using the computer as like the main tool for making my artwork and could put my human hand back in there, my daily studio life could be an organic thing, operating in tandem with computers,” Finley says.

Shannon Finley’s Interference is at Carrie Secrist Gallery until November 5. Visit the gallery website, here.


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