From the nomination letter:
What is art in our era of smartphones and monster storms, of Facebook and 140-character tweets? Flagstaff artist Shawn Skabelund’s Fall 2013 exhibit titled Virga: The Hunt for Water constitutes a riveting and lustrous example. Skabelund’s ability to bring a thoughtful and enjoyable level of superb beauty to what might otherwise be shocking or grim is why I wish to nominate him for the Viola award for “a visual artist for an outstanding exhibition of visual art.” The exhibit ran September 17-October 30, 2013 at the Coconino Center for the Arts.
Skabelund’s entire oeuvre is situated in the truest sense of the word (as evidenced by a few of his one-person shows: 2007 Stigmata at Wounded Knee in Rapid City SD; 2008 Drive-By Shooting in La Grange, OR; 2012 The River Floweth in Hanover IN;The Price of Entrance at Grand Canyon AZ)— but Virga in particular shows how art of place can focus a community, can lead us to a better realization of who we are and where we are on the planet that sustains our lives.
Virga’s subtitle alludes to the search for a life-sustenance that is tangible: water. However, Skabelund’s exhibit can also be viewed as a metaphor for humans’ search for an intangible to sustain us. Whether we label it self-reflection, morality, sustainability, or spirituality is moot, because clearly, the tangible and the intangible are brilliantly linked in Skabelund’s recent exhibit. The Flagstaff- and Southwestern USA-specific elements of the exhibit are also both tangible and intangible: the six separate pieces function independent of one another and yet together. In addition, they operate on more than one level ranging from the environmental to the aesthetic. Skabelund’s discipline and rigor enhance rather than distract, and open the way for viewers to see that the levels are intermingled rather than separate.
Indeed, the exhibit permits new emotional and aesthetic insights about environment and aesthetics at the same time that its component parts lead the viewer to participate in a sense-centered observation. This synthesis is accomplished via a redolently enormous yet tidy construction of pine needles piled to several the height of several feet; fractal-like stumps of charred trees around a single, slender white reaching branch; breathtakingly precise drawings of Abert squirrels lovely in death next to tactilely-appealing contrasts of cornmeal or glossy human hair; and chalky bison skulls dragging their audible way in mesmerizing orbit through gritty-silky cornmeal—all the while demonstrating technically masterful skill.
Images: courtesy Shawn Skabelund