Shawn Powers is the only US skater working with London streetwear titans Palace. We catch up with the 23-year-old about transitioning from graffiti to the gallery.
Photography Sloan Laurits
Shawn Powers is a skater and artist who was born and raised in Queens and carved out his career on Manhattan's streets: skating and spraying graffiti on its walls, windows, and sidewalks. Now 23, Powers has turned pro and is the only American rider to represent Lev Tanju's London-based Palace Skateboards. Last September, his first solo show at Gogy Esparza's Magic Gallery in Chinatown also marked his official move from concrete and aerosol to canvas and paintbrush. i-D caught up with the multi-talented Powers to talk about girls, graffiti, and future plans.
What made you transition from street graffiti to creating art in a studio?
I used to say I did graffiti to impress girls, but it was really just to get out my frustration from failing with them. It was also to mark my territory, but then Supreme's director of marketing, Angelo Baque, gave me the light and motivation to pave my own way and Charles Lamb [a fellow New York skater] started collecting my drawings. Charles introduced me to the artist Ray Smith and I helped him in his studio for a couple of weeks. His studio and his paintings are huge and he's been around forever and will be around for the rest of time through his work. Seeing that really opened up my eyes to how life can be as an artist.
What's your typical day like?
For me the day starts when I wake up and brush my teeth. As soon as I get out of the house I aim to go to Tompkins Square Park. It's like recess at school there—you can always count on your friends being there without calling or texting them. If I don't go there, the first thing I do is go to Magic Gallery and talk about taking over the world with Gogy. Being part of the gallery really saved my life and I'm so thankful that Gogy gave me my own set of keys so that I can go there whenever I want to. Sometimes if I can't sleep I'll spend the whole night there just listening to music and brainstorming new ideas. If I'm feeling sad or I have a problem I can always count on being there and being alone in my zone and dealing with it.
How do you approach making a new piece of art?
When it comes to making new pieces, I try to approach it like I'm dying and that the only way to survive is to give life to the piece so it can give me life back. When a new piece is born I feel reborn, but then I'll go and do something bad because I feel so good. It's like I'm killing myself all over again. It's a vicious cycle, super fun, and I love it.
Who are your favorite artists?
I don't know much about art or artists, but I like to think that when I'm painting all of the great artists are watching and helping to guide my brush.
Do you think there are any similarities between your style of skating and your style of art?
My style of art and skating both come from my limbs, my hands, and my feet. Sometimes I'm right handed, but sometimes I like to paint with my left hand. It's similar to switching between styles of skating.
What is your favorite thing about living in New York?
The infinite amount of new information constantly being drilled into my six senses. Sometimes the information can be too much to handle so I get freaked out, but it's where I'm meant to be.
My next show is going to be in Berlin with Gogy. I want to call it "More Promises." Gogy named the last show we did together "Bloody Money" so it's my turn to name this one.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In a penthouse with glass ceilings and floors, red velvet wallpaper, black leather couches, and gold lamps and furniture. There will be babies drooling and drawing all over everything and I'll have a beautiful wife yelling at me. She'll tell me that I need to grow up, but it's all good because she'll also say she loves me every other hour of the day.