Meeting Shaun Ross: Be you and the rest of the world will follow
It all began with „AKUMA“, a video produced in Tokyo by a friend of ours, the Munich fashion designer Nina Athanasiou, to underscore her new collection at the New York Fashion Week. Starring in the lead role as an alien was supermodel Shaun Ross who’s albinism and extraordinary personality enable him to transport extremes in looks and atmosphere.
His performance made us look twice and we began to think about how we perceive beauty and how it feels to be „alien“. Quote Shaun:
Be you and the rest of the world will follow, I do what I do because they told me I couldn’t.
„Akuma“ went on to win the second prize in the London Fashion Film Festival. One reason for this was certainly Shaun Ross’s performance as an alien who hunts down his prey in night-time Tokyo.
At the same time that „Akuma“ had its premiere at the New York Fashion Week, we learned about a New York-based artist called Jerome Lagarrigue, who had just opened his „Visible Man“ solo exhibition with a series of paintings featuring one person only: Shaun Ross.
That was when we got curious.
Especially as Jerome Lagarrigue also seemed to be an exceptional and very interesting person, being an artist who moved from Paris to New York – didn’t it used to be the other way round? Plus the fact that he taught a painting class for eight years shortly after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design – you could say at the beginning of his career – also intrigued us.
Teaching drawing and painting had, I’m sure, an effect on the way I think and view painting nowadays. Teaching also obliged me to do research on the fundamental rules of painting and drawing figuratively and therefore, hopefully my knowledge of the field. In the end it were the students that changed my understanding of painting and drawing. I loved being surrounded by so many different point of views in a classroom.
Jerome Lagarrigue also illustrated Maya Angelou´s book „Poetry for young people“.
Her voice has never left my head. I walked out of her house in Harlem and felt levitated. Meeting Maya was a life changing experience.
In other words, two outstanding and unique men who had been unaware of each other’s existence before and whose paths crossed for a brief moment to create a masterpiece together, these two men seemed to echo each other. It was time to meet them.
Interview with Shaun Ross and Jerome Lagarrigue
Shaun, how did it feel to become an alien?
I have always been the outcast in my environment and to be honest, I have always loved the movie „ET“. Katy Perry turned me into an alien for her video, but most importantly she made a dream come true. I am the extraterrestrial life form. I am different and that is okay. Or at least – I am okay with that.
Jerome, how did you get to know Shaun?
I first met Shaun during Art Basel in Miami last December, and asked him to pose for me in front of a hotel lobby wall. At that time I had no idea who he was, which was essential in the process of devoting an entire series on him. If I had known about his success previously I would not have painted him. I am not interested in documenting one’s personal achievement and success. The initial meeting was crucial in my decision to paint him. I guess I function impulsively and instinctively.
Shaun: I was in Miami with an ex lover and we were walking on ocean avenue and Jerome asked if he could take a picture of me and next thing you know there is a painting of me in red hook, Brooklyn.
Shaun, you have a very strong vibe and charisma…
I simply tell people that I really don’t care what others have to say. I really love myself and what I stand for and don’t know how to do differently.
Jerome, did you first had the idea in general or came it together when you met Shaun?
My desire to devote an entire series of paintings on Shaun developed when I painted the first portrait. It felt so liberating as well as challenging to paint him. I wanted to repeat the experience.
In your paintings as far I could experience the feel and their looks, Shaun looks like a post-modern icon or idol.
Shaun certainly has become an iconic figure at this moment in time, for reasons other than his albinism. Shaun’s presence is very liberating when you stand near him. Perhaps the combination of his unique beauty and confidence in himself have turned him into a post modern iconic figure.
Shaun how do you feel about being iconified?
I don’t think that I am the new poster boy for what the exception of beauty should be. I just think that people now see beauty as something more and maybe I am helping with that.
Jerome, was that your intention or did it just happen?
I approached this series of paintings as I imagined directing a film. Each painting is meant to exist as a portal for the viewer to jump through. Each painting could be perceived as a moment, a chapter or scene, as part of a larger story.
Although I don’t visualize my work as being overtly narrative, moments depicted in this series were carefully selected to provoke specific emotional responses in people: happiness, pain, hope, and finally transcendence.
I did not want reinforce Shaun’s iconic depiction, but to the contrary place him in environments that reinforced his beauty and human qualities. It is for this reason that he is at times surrounded by fireflies, in front of wheat fields at dusk all of which have a certain dream like even mystical connotation.
Jerome, the exhibition shows amazing details and closeups. Please describe how you do it, as one can get really lost, like falling into the rabbit hole.
I paint in layers and very gesturally at times. I want the viewer to witness the process within the work, which explains why certain areas are left untouched. If one moves close to the surface the painting becomes abstract it is only once you step back that you can read the image and its entirety. I usually select one area that will receive more detailed attention echoing the mechanism of a camera lens. As details become interesting to notice when other moments in an image are left blurry, the depth of field theory I suppose.
Shaun, when you first saw all the paintings, what went on in your head, to see so many details of yourself, in so many different variations in such a closeness and frequency?
I thought that this was amazing. I kind of saw this in my life to be honest years before hand and to see it actually come to life is amazing. I want to be art and I want my art to live forever.
Where to meet the two
If you want to see more of Shaun Ross expect from his appearances on the runways of this world and fashion magazines, we suggest watching Lana Del Rey´s Tale of Redemption „Tropico“ in which Shaun Ross plays the Adam.
Jerome Laggarrigue is currently working on a new project called „Tipping Point“. Those paintings focus on the theme of rioting in the world and are based on real world events dating from the civil rights movement to current events in Ferguson. He hasn’t decided yet where to show these paintings. Let´s hope for Berlin! More about his art work on his webpage.