When he decided to go back to school, Andrew Shuta, the artist whose Master’s thesis Something Went Wrong but I Can’t Remember Why is now showing at Joseph Gross Gallery, knew that he’d ultimately have to stay in Tucson. Spork Press, the small press he has co-run for the last six years, is at a crucial moment in its development, and he didn’t want to miss it. Sometimes constraint is the best fuel for creativity, though, and rather than feeling stuck in Tucson, Shuta has been working over the years to make it into a place he wants to stay.
Spork is a huge part of this effort, as is a forthcoming contemporary art space that he is working on with fellow artist Alex Von Bergen. Shuta hopes that the new space will create a place for emerging contemporary artists in Tucson.
“Right now there is either MOCA—and you have to be pretty established to get into MOCA—or there are galleries that show regional work [desert landscapes and Dia de los Muertos motifs],” says Shuta. “We want to be mini-MOCA, showing work that people might be confused by.”
Shuta describes his own approach as, “make the art you want to see.”
“While I love a variety of aesthetics, from conceptual work to really refined polished formalized work, my personal tastes are weird, absurd, and surreal,” he says.
Shuta’s style is fluid. His subject matter has changed over the years, but his color palette—oversaturated, super bright, neon, artificial—has remained consistent. In undergrad, where Shuta studied studio art alongside English and creative writing, he made work that touched upon pop culture and recognizable figures. In grad school, Shuta moved toward more abstract, assemblage-based work. References to the outside world are there, but not in a specific way.
This use of subtle reference is highlighted beautifully in Something Went Wrong but I Can’t Remember Why. The name of the show suggests a narrative rather than a thesis, and, indeed, that is Shuta’s aim.
In lieu of a traditional artist statement, Shuta wrote a flash fiction story to accompany the show. He knows that not everyone who sees the show will read the story, but if they do, they will understand the work in a more specific context.
“I hope it will give the audience an entry point to the work. I’m not trying to be didactic,” Shuta says. “I want people to go in thinking of a story. I’m not trying to be overt about it. The images, sculptures, pictures, etc. are imbued with enough semiotic meaning that people can start to pull their own associations.”
The title is meant to reinforce that—the show should function as a narrative that is open to interpretation, rather than an elucidation of a specific point. Even if people haven’t read his story before viewing the work, they often come up with a narrative that is similar to his own.
“I’d rather be ambiguous, and have enough clues for people to come up with their own story,” he says.
In addition to local artists like Von Bergen and Jocko Weyland, Shuta finds inspiration in the broader world of contemporary art, often through the internet.
“There are several artists I love that I’m probably ripping off to a certain extent because all art is in some way a rip off,” Shuta says. “I’m trying to own my influences, to learn from them and to develop my own thing.”
He considers Isa Genzken a sort of artistic sister. She’s his favorite working artist.
“I’m like a shittier version of her,” he says. “She had a big show last year, and when I saw it I was like ‘Oh no!’ because I was working on something very similar at the time.”
It’s great to be in sync with someone who is making relevant, powerful work, but it can also be discouraging when you see that what you’re working toward is already being done, and being done well.
“You can kind of keep working on it, or you can move forward. I guess I’m doing both. I’m working on it and I’m trying to move forward,” Shuta says.
Though Shuta’s work doesn’t exist in its own bubble—one might argue that no one’s does—his thesis project highlights his thoughtful approach, clarity of vision, and background in fiction writing, making it decidedly his own. Something Went Wrong and I Can’t Remember Why will be at the Joseph Gross Gallery (1031 N. Olive Road, Room 108) until Sunday, May 15. The gallery in open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.