Image Courtesy Lydia See
Paul Shortt is an artist based in Gainesville, Florida who plucks humor out of everyday life. Shortt received his MFA in New Media from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, IL. Since then he has kept busy creating his own books, signs, and world view.
One of Shortt’s most recent works to make the gallery rounds is his Reserved for Loitering piece. The bright yellow lawn signs serve as an extension of his overall How to Loiter series in which he “seeks to re-imagine and create new sites for loitering through a Public Service Announcement style campaign.” This project in particular conveys many of the tools employed by Shortt in his art practice. For instance, putting art out into the real world, using humor, and taking advantage of social constructs.
“Basically, most of my art practice takes place in my notebook. So, I’m sitting there processing ideas I’ve been thinking about. I’m inspired by a lot of things I encounter. It could be that I’m driving around, and I notice things or I get out and photograph them. It could be a sign…an article I read in the newspaper. Or it could just be a series of different things that I’ve read over a period time that at a certain point click and become a body of work.
For example, (the loitering work) was partly inspired by being around Baltimore and seeing a lot of text on steps that say ‘Do Not Sit Here.’ One time I encountered this great ‘No Loitering’ sign that was hand painted and then a few weeks later the window was broken in this abandoned place where it was and a friend of mine helped me grab the sign out. Then that sign sat in my studio for six months and it’s sitting around and at a certain point I decided I wanted to do something about loitering. Eventually I went to an artist’s talk and they had reserved seating and I grabbed some of those ‘Reserved’ signs. Then they just happened to be in my studio and at a certain point I was probably just reading them out loud and I said, ‘Reserved For Loitering’ and I was like, ‘oh, that’s the work.”
It is this lightbulb moment garnered from real world observation building that speaks to how Shortt manages to pick and pull from the real world. In this instance he managed to collage two negatives and create a positive. His loitering signs can jar viewers who are accustomed to only being told what they cannot do – in Shortt’s world we are being told what we can do. Better yet, we are being invited to not do anything.
“I made an active choice that making artwork was what I wanted to do. I made mini-comics in my early twenties and worked at the mall and decided to go to art school full time when I was around 24. Since that time, I’ve made books, videos, prints, photographs, installations and temporary public art projects.”
When observing the humor and craftiness of most of Shortt’s work, the early interest in comics bleeds through with much clarity. His Word Art embodies the design appeal of Barbara Kruger while managing to evoke vibrant, pop art inspired, splashes of color born from a Roy Lichtenstein painting.
The crafting of books as well as public signs speak to Shortt’s ability to let his work live in the real world. His Reserved for Loitering signs are free to take not just when they are in public spaces but also when they exist in an art exhibition. Shortt’s books, which are carefully crafted art works in their own right, are made to be sent out into the world. Additionally, to give his own flair to the books, Shortt will print and bind the books himself in his studio.
“My larger project as an artist is exploring growing. How we grow and change as people and what holds us back. This has led me to work that explores rules, instructions, and adulthood. But growing is also affected by the spaces, towns and cities we grow up and live in, so my work as often been left as interventions in public and private spaces and documented through photo and video.”
Not limited to only sign and bookmaking, Shortt has also delved into video/performance art in his series Large Child. In this body of work, Shortt uses photography, videography, and performance to place himself in the role of a child. Similar to his other projects, humor is employed but now it revolves around Shortt himself and his attempt to evoke childhood.
For instance, in Large Child: Construction, Shortt visits a construction site and attempts to play with his own mini excavator. His attempt to play is absurd and comical but can serve as a reminder that adults cannot or have forgotten how to play. This reminder on how to be a child or simply young at heart ties back into Shortt’s book How to be a Large Child. Pushing his themes further, it can be said that Shortt is again telling the viewer to look around and see the humor in societal constructs and norms.
His Next Idea
Performances for Waiting in Line will be a book, sign-based prints and series of performances and readings over the next year. This attempts to active the dead space of waiting in line. The book was designed for readers to either lead themselves or others into performances while they are waiting in line. I want to turn waiting in line in to a creative space and hopefully offer a different experience.”