From the Studio: Shawn Krueger

Landscape oil painting titled The Autumn Gothic by Shawn Krueger.
Oil painting titled "The Autumn Gothic" by Shawn Krueger.

Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, artist Shawn Krueger received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Calvin College in the late ’90s. His approach to painting is rooted in the American Arts & Crafts and Tonalist traditions – both based on love and respect for nature, hand-craftsmanship, and good design.

On October 19 – December 31, 2019, Grovewood Gallery will host Landscapes of Southern Appalachia, a solo exhibition of Shawn’s work, featuring studio pieces and plein air studies from his recent travels in and around Western North Carolina.

In addition to Grovewood Gallery, Krueger also showcases his work at the National Arts and Crafts Conference each February at The Omni Grove Park Inn. In 2016, he was juried into the highly reputable Roycrofters-at-Large Association (RALA), whose mission is “educating, fostering and inspiring through the continual evolution of the Arts and Crafts Movement.” As of 2019, he is also a signature member of the American Tonalist Society (ATS).

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Shawn Krueger about the inspiration behind his work and his upcoming show at Grovewood Gallery.

Oil painting titled “Kilmer Forest” by Shawn Krueger.

Interview with Shawn Krueger

As a child, did you experiment with painting? At what point did you realize you would pursue a career as an artist?

SK: It sounds needlessly dramatic, but when I look back at it, I had no other viable option but to paint. I have been guilty of false steps and for letting other side hustles take over when money was tight, but there has been nothing else I was meant to do. I have been a professional working artist for over twenty years, painting full time for the past seven, and I have never been more miserably happy in my life. Painters will know what I mean. 

Your approach to painting is rooted in the American Arts & Crafts and Tonalist traditions. What drew you to these style?

SK: The heyday of the two movements was loosely concurrent (1880-1920), so my interest in both seemed natural. Both were highly influential and then, to a large degree, forgotten in favor of tastes that have over time had a wider, longer lasting reach (Art Deco, Modernism). You can, however, draw a line from American Tonalism straight through Whistler in Paris connecting to Picasso’s Blue Period……but no one thinks of this as the origin. At any rate, their shared ethos is timeless and compelling: Create fully with your head, heart and hand. Use natural materials. Be in tune with nature.

I think to some degree the typically warm, low-key color palette found in both genres suits my outlook and temperament as a painter. I don’t say this to be glib…even as a kid, humbler greens, oranges and purples held more appeal for me than did their primary base colors.

Are there any particular artists or designers that have influenced you?

SK: Original Tonalists John Francis Murphy, Bruce Crane, George Inness, Alexander Wyant, Emil Carlsen and Frederick Kost continue to cast long shadows over my work. With regard to Arts & Crafts, I’m inspired by the greats of course: Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley. But the contemporary movement has so many amazing makers who fit right in with their forebearers: Jebb Anderson in metalwork…Mary Pratt in pottery. James and Christie Miller of Mission Guild are innovative geniuses when it comes to pairing tile and wood. Brian Brace from right here in Asheville is virtually peerless as a woodworker.

Oil paintings by Shawn Krueger: “Elk Mountain View II” and “Mountain Pines.”

Most of the work for your upcoming exhibition at Grovewood Gallery was begun on site in Western North Carolina, correct? Describe the body of work that you’ll be presenting for this show, and tell us what were some of your favorite areas to paint?

SK: In addition to the work people might associate with me, I also intend to show and make for sale some of my small studies in this large exhibition. These pieces, sometimes just a simple monochrome, primarily begun on site, are where I am working most intuitively and free of any expectation. I believe they offer some insight as to how I get along with the business of making larger work. They are every bit finished…but they haven’t been fussed over.

As far as subject matter goes, I have found myself recently enamored with the large, old growth tulip poplars in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. While their disproportionate scale makes for compelling compositions, it’s the almost otherworldly eeriness to some of these massive trees that holds the greatest appeal for me.

I have also been enjoying the challenges presented by the tumbled rocks and spray of waterfalls I’ve stumbled upon throughout my time in the Blue Ridge Mountains. How does one convey movement in a still image? How do I create the roar of rushing water when a painting is inherently quiet? These are the questions that have kept me awake in the past year.

Oil painting titled “Early Autumn on the Horsepasture River” by Shawn Krueger.

You were juried into the Roycrofters-At-Large Association (RALA) in 2016. What drew you to this organization? 

SK: When I saw the quality of the work bearing the double “R” Roycroft mark from fellow exhibitors at the 2016 National Arts & Crafts Conference at The Grove Park Inn, I knew RALA was something I’d like to be a part of. To be included in this select group is humbling but, at the same time, I’m proud to have this validation for the dedication I have to my work. Of course, the history of the Roycroft community in East Aurora, New York is a large pull for me. It’s a treat to be able to come to the Campus and know that you’re a continuation of what went on in these buildings. It is the same feeling I have each time I step inside Grovewood Gallery. Important hands have made important things here. This history of these places has tremendous importance to me. 

I’m also proud of being selected this year as a signature member of the American Tonalist Society (ATS). The members of this guild are some of the finest painters working today, so it does remain a bit of a mystery as to why I’ve been included. The inaugural exhibition was in May at the historic Salmagundi Club in New York City. Virtually every painting hero of mine has been affiliated with this club, so to have my work hung on those same walls has more meaning to me than I can adequately express.

What’s your dream project?

SK: Any situation where I get to fit in my love for both Arts & Crafts and Tonalism suits me well.  I never look for anything specific and…truthfully… just being able to do what I do and have an audience for it is pretty dreamy in and of itself. If I can continue to do this until I fall over, it will have been a life well-lived.

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