We had the good fortune of connecting with Shawn Kolodny and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shawn, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I strongly believe that taking risks is the only way you can get ahead in life. Whether starting a business, asking that pretty girl out on a date, or deciding to be an artist, I’ve found that the biggest risks have the greatest opportunity for reward, and that not taking risks is a straightforward shot to regret. Risk, and the embrace of it, has shaped my life. I was never one for normal jobs so I became an entrepreneur early in life. I found myself infatuated by the emotional rollercoaster of starting a business. All the pain and glory, “freedom” and heartbreak, ups and downs, trial and error, and even all of the failures. Like many things in life, the more risk you experience, the greater your tolerance becomes. The butterflies subside faster, you pick yourself up off the ground faster, and you grow stronger and bigger than before. Then, when I decided I was going to take the risk to become a full time working artist, I found a lot of commonalities with entrepreneurship. I found out that being an artist is more than just painting pictures. You have a product, your art, which you have to manufacture, market, and sell. You need to worry about PR, inventory management, social media, gallery representation, collector management, and the list goes on. As your career as an artist matures, you try bigger pieces, different mediums, larger canvases, maybe sculptures, installations; bigger risks. Your sales grow, allowing for you to put a team together, get some assistants, maybe a publicist; even more risk. The more you grow, the more risks are involved, because now you have more to lose. Success isn’t linear, though. The cycle goes up, down, and not every risk you take will be rewarded. But consistency, discipline, and practice keeps you going, until one day you are repped by Gagosian. It all started by that first, and hardest, risk. You put the pen to paper, you make something, you call yourself an artist. You show up everyday and do the work. This is you stepping onto the roller coaster. Strap in, get ready for the ride. It’s scary but exciting, and 100% worth it.
Great advice! Let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally.
Like I mentioned, I was never one for normal jobs. Even as a kid, I found the most joy in creative subjects. My parents must have seen it early, perhaps it was when I started making sculptures out of blocks or things I found around the house. They were on to me. They sent me to my first sculpture class at the Art Students League when I was 13. I have not stopped since then. I find that I need to create as much as I need to eat or sleep, sometimes even more than eating or sleeping. Even though I’ve had other professional endeavors, I was always making art as a way to process and represent the world as I was experiencing it. I found ways to integrate creativity in my work. I believe I had a successful career in the hospitality industry because I was mindful of what it takes to curate a beautiful and engaging experience for people. However, the industry I was a part of is notorious for exposing certain issues with society, like substance addiction and materialism, to name a few. As the owner and operator of New York City’s most prominent nightclubs, I was the observer and the subject of many an addiction, and more abstractly, the pathological relationship in which things replace self. My work confronted the infinite cycle of fake fulfillment shaped by modern society’s addiction to ego-driven pleasure seeking and performance. Through encapsulating the most sought-after brands into digestible, prescribed forms, I was able to represent the psychologically altering effects that these systems have. The work has a deep message packaged in consumable imagery. Supported by its success, I took on the biggest challenge of my art career to date in the form of a 3,000 square foot immersive installation for Art Basel in 2017. This was a huge challenge professionally, mentally, and even emotionally. I was blessed to work with a great team of people that helped realize the vision. We spent 6 months working 18 hour days designing and building an interactive and social media-friendly experience based on my works. The project made me understand that creating art is more than just the artwork. The final product is just the tip of the iceberg, but below the surface is all of the time, energy, and effort that is the planning, building, and distribution of it. This made me start seeing my art practice as something like a start up. Completing the work took up only something like 30% of my time. The rest, again like any other business, required marketing, social, PR, inventory management, collector and customer outreach and support, gallery outreach and management. Treating it like a business has given me the efficiency and organization to keep producing. Making sure that I prioritize the financial aspects of my career means that I will be able to have the stability and resources to keep doing it. Since my collection was so well received it gave me the confidence to start pursuing art full-time. I realized that in order to be successful with my art, I needed to make it my number one priority, instead of just some hobby or side project. This means I’ve had a lot more dedicated and intentional time to think about what it is I really want to say with my art.
We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about?
This leads me to my current collection for 2021. I have been creating a new series of work that revolves around being more transparent in my creation and business process. This includes documenting the behind the scenes, and delving into how the works are fabricated and my thought processes behind them. I hope that by sharing more about this logistic and personal side of the work, I will be able to cultivate a richer relationship with my audience and collectors. This is also a response to the lesson I learned during my Basel event, in that the work only constitutes 30% of the whole practice. I want to be able to show the other 70%, and present a complete picture of what it really means to be a working artist. Along with exploring new forms of communication, I am experimenting with an aesthetic shift in my style and application. The new series, Rumination, uses words as a medium, sort of like a stamp or engraving, and repeats them like a mantra to create a textured and visceral finished product. I am interested in taking the physical, the word, and putting it context with color and other words, and turning it into something abstract. These words can be layering thoughts, related concepts and ideas, a narrative, or more concrete; places or people. Each piece is centered around a single concept or topic and invites the viewer to create meaning and context within it. This will then hopefully create a subjective and personal relationship to the work. What I’m most proud of is that the work has to deconstruct the visual experience since you can only focus on one or two components at once. The viewer has to really get in there and take their time in reading through the words, thinking about how they connect with each other, and how the viewer connects to them.
What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way? What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
The main lesson I’ve learned in this crazy journey has been to trust my instinct and go full force into what I believe in. I am blessed to have had a lot of success in my past, but that just didn’t feel right to me anymore. It was just nagging at me so much, constantly, the desire to create and be surrounded by art. At first, I had my doubts. I wondered what it takes to really be an artist. Could I fill my days? Would I have enough to do? I gave myself 6 months to see if I could support myself being an artist, and it wasn’t easy. In the end, I realized that the only thing it takes, is putting the time and energy into it. Keep working, keep pushing, keep looking for ways to create and make something. That, and of course as I’ve mentioned, treating it like a business. This framework increases my art practice’s longevity. No one wants to be a starving artist, and I strongly believe that the best way to continue making art is to have the financial freedom and resources to be making art full-time. That’s why another big lesson I learned and that I want other aspiring artists to know is that it takes more than just making good art, you also need to know how to identify your brand, audience, and collectors, and engage with them. My brand so far has been centered around cultural observations. I am concerned about the state of the soul in our material and popular society. My art so far has been colorful and direct, and it may always be that way, but it also will evolve. The beautiful thing is that my art mirrors the culture, and they can evolve accordingly.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
As far as recommendations go, they are still COVID contingent, but here is the perfect itinerary for the week if my friend was coming to visit. First day is a beach day, let them relax and recharge. After all, Miami is known for its eternal summers and is made for basking in the sun. That night, a nice dinner at Cecconi’s, Day two there will be, you guessed it, more beach time, except this time we have the energy to try something a little more fun, like wake surfing or jet skiing. Dinner will be at my favorite sushi spot on the beach, Blue Ribbon at the Plymouth hotel. Day three, get a good jump on the morning with the amazing breakfast at Orange Blossom on South Beach. No trip is complete without checking out the street art culture at Wynwood. We would see the walls, visit a few galleries, and grab lunch at one of my favorite spots, Kyu. Since it’s Miami, we would also obviously need a night out. This means a late dinner at Mr Chows, and then off to the Miami default, LIV. Day four, do some shopping, there’s Aventura Mall, the Design District, and then finishing up at Brickell City Center. We can then end the day strong with a picturesque dinner at Komodo, and a late night drink and Socialista. Day five (hang in there), a proper boat day. Get a crew together, rent a nice 75 footer and take a ride down to Elliot Key. Day six, we’re feeling the sun and fun, gotta have another relaxing day by the pool. Maybe something chill and low-key like afternoon paddle boarding and a BBQ. Day seven, he’s on his way back home. Three weeks later, your friend moves to Miami.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shawn Vardi gets my shoutout. Shawn is a successful hotelier and restaurateur in Miami. He owns The Plymouth Hotel, South Beach, Boulan, to name a few. Without his support, I would not be where I am today. Several years ago, I took a big risk, gave up a comfy job and became an artist professionally. The problem was that no one knew or cared. So I figured I would have this big coming out, so to speak, by creating a huge installation for Miami Art Week/Art Basel, Miam’s busiest week of the year. I was thinking go big or go home. I had grand plans, bold ideas, tons of art, and no place to express my dreams. Then Shawn came along, providing me space in the heart of south beach at his Boulan Hotel. He gave me space, his team, emotional and production support, when no one else would give me the time of day. The installation was so well received I was commissioned to rebuild it inside the Art Palm Beach fair, a month later. That launched me in the art world, and it couldn’t have happened without Shawn Vardi, to whom I’m still to this day indebtedly grateful.