It’s painful to write about San Francisco artist Shawn Whisenant in the past tense. When he passed away last month, I wrote a brief eulogy on Juxtapoz.com, but I’ve spent the last several weeks processing this brutal reality, trying to understand what it means to have a legacy as an artist.
Shawn died unexpectedly at only 32 from a health issue. The hole he left in San Francisco’s heart is unbearable for those of us who knew him and/or his artwork. He and my husband Jeff Meadows were good friends; they collaborated on many art shows and had a sign painting business together.
Even if Shawn hadn’t died, I would tell you that he was the kind of artist who championed his friends’ work and got us into art shows whenever he had an opportunity. He would be the first to let you know if he liked your work, and did the same for artists he connected with -- through zines, skating and photography -- all over the world. There are many art folks who never met Shawn, but traded art or worked with him in some capacity. Everyone remembers him as a rad and generous person. After some of his work didn’t sell at a show in Philly, he gifted it to the gallery owner. He was that kind of guy. My husband and I are lucky to have a small collection of his work, though it's hard to believe it will now become scarce; he was so prolific. He produced zines steadily for years, and now some of the titles, like Sleep the Feeling Away and The Simple Things in Life are Beautiful, have become eerily poignant.
The first piece I bought from Shawn was a soft sculpture character stitched together from pieces of painted canvas. I expected it to be out of my price range. So I was shocked when he said it was $20 because it was so intricate. After clutching this little character in the days after his passing, I realized it was stuffed with feathers, and for some reason that felt meaningful. This cobbled-together, homemade toy could’ve been stuffed with any old junk, but Shawn likely took some feathers out of his own pillow to give the character volume. That’s totally something he would do. A real artist through and through, he worked with anything he could find, and his art always came first.