Artist Draws Inspiration From George W. Bush Presidency

Jon Crescenzo / The Pioneer

Jon Crescenzo

Local sculpter James Shefik says his biggest inspirations were his parents and George W. Bush’s post-9/11 policies.

In a digitized world, it’s no shock that art too has become digital. The demand continues to skyrocket with guerilla and underground art becoming increasingly assimilated and commoditized into corporate logos and Target T-shirts.

No one could escape Shepard Fairey’s eponymous “Hope” poster of Obama during the 2008 election. As the digital arts ride shotgun into the 21st century, traditional arts find themelves in the backseat with not enough seatbelts. But there’s at least one artist who’s not lying down to die.

A nascent, conceptual artist with a fierce, political edge, James Shefik relaxes on a bench outside of an Oakland coffee shop. With a pair of paint-stained jeans and blacksmith hands, the 49-year-old has lit up the Bay Area in the last year.

With two past exhibitions at the Auto Body Fine Arts in Alameda and Innovations in Contemporary Art in Richmond., Shefik’s work was recently selected for the Aqua Art Miami Beach Exhibition and 2010 Bay Area Juried Exhibition.

A native to Carmel, Shefik grew up there in the 1960s before “Clint Eastwood became mayor and it got hoity-toity,” Shefik casually says.

Admitting that his parents had a good deal of influence on him, his father emigrated from Turkey before World War II and eventually married his mother, an American with a German and Swiss background.

“There’s a lot of warring in my blood,” Shefik says.

While his father wanted him to be architect, “my mom was more supportive,” Shefik says. His mother accidentally provided the basis Shefik’s discovery of sculpture.

In 2002, Shefik got laid off as head of a scene shop for a local production company. “After all those years, I was pissed at first,” Shefik comments, calmly sipping his coffee.

“Then I took a Renaissance class. I realized I didn’t want to paint plaster heads of dead people. And one day I brought into class this beautiful bus sculpture my mom made. I put a sandbag over it and tied it up. That was the beginning of the Pencil Bomb.”
What had long been a love for drawing had transformed into a love for sculpture for Shefik. At the same time, the United States invade Iraq.

Angered and frustrated, Shefik became political and joined the worldwide protest movement.

“Everything with Bush was just a total abuse of power,” Shefik says.

Bush proved to be Shefik’s radical stimulus. Dumping himself into his work, Shefik created a string of work that is now becoming increasingly recognized.

“Bush was the focus of my art,” Shefik admits. “It was an easy avenue for images, and it was just horrible to me.”

Aggressive but intellectual, Shefik is no simple Bush-basher. Rather, his work encompasses the antagonism of a Rage Against the Machine album in the satirical style of the Daily Show.

In the end, Shefik takes the conservative ideology that dominated the media post-9/11 on issues such as violence, consumerism and conformity, and turns it on its head.

But as his art has been become centered around its political messages, Shefik himself seems to be the only dissident uncomfortable with it.

“I’m not trying to be political,” he said. “My art just is. I’m not set to change the world with art. I’m trying to make art interesting.”

Characterized as contemporary and realistic, his work is obsessed with detail. At his art shows it’s common for people to ask where he found or bought the objects in his work.

But Shefik handcrafts every object in every piece, ranging from hundreds of miniature chairs to reproducing a hanging anvil. Each piece takes anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks.

“Being into realism and detail in the 1970s was a big no-no. But, if it’s not believable people won’t take that second or third look. ”

Though meticulous, oddly, there’s a level of spontaneity and madness to Shefik and his art process. He doesn’t use pre-concept drawing—it’s just “start and go,” Shefik says.

Sometimes an object can be a source of inspiration, and in other cases one idea can just lead to the next.

“The end result isn’t known,” admits Shefik. “You are just following an idea. You are surprised at by the end result. But, there are no short cuts.”

When not sculpting, Shefik makes a steady paycheck with a local painting company, recently creating backgrounds for NBC’s “Trauma” and the 2008 film “Milk.”

“My job proves invaluable to my artwork,” he says. “I incorporate what I do on the job with my work. You go to a college professor and say ‘I want to make a Marshallow Anvil,’ and they say ‘great, how do you do that?’”

Though a dangerous artist on the rise, Shefik seems complacent.

“This arch of my life has led to point where I’m at with my art,” Shefik says before he sips his coffee. “After a bunch of twists and turns.”