July 28, 2011By Adam White Observer staff
Shawn Luke has a fascination with water equal to his passion for creating art. Both are currently on display in the Community Room at the Williston Police Station, in an exhibit called the Wahter Man Project.
A Minnesota native who currently lives in Williston and works as a development engineer for IBM, Luke recently sat down with the Observer to talk about his artistic roots, his social mission and what the exhibit has meant to his efforts.
Williston Observer: What was the basis of your inspiration for painting?
Shawn Luke: I started working with acrylics back in high school, and did an entire portfolio in preparation for going to art school. But my father had pushed me to do something that had more potential for a career, so I ended up going to engineering school … and coming to Vermont to work for IBM. But I needed a creative outlet; I had a need, a desire, to get out and create. The art is a continuation of what I like to do in my engineering work, which is to create different things. And there is a social mission in my work as well, which makes me feel like I have a larger connection.
WO: Was that mission — raising social awareness about water and issues relating to it — something that was there from the beginning?
Luke: In a way, yes. I’ve always liked working with shapes, so part of it is tying into the shape of the water drop. But more so is the sense of interconnectedness, and water seems to have that. It’s the one thing that really connects all life forms. It’s the bond that ties us together.
WO: How does your engineering background influence your art?
Luke: In some ways, (painting) is a large departure from what I usually do — which is very analytical and rigid. The art form is very different; it allows me to be much more free with my thinking. But there is a lot of crossover as well. I use technology as a tool, sketching things out on a computer before I put them on canvas.
WO: You were also involved in scouting. How has that played into who you’ve become as an artist?
Luke: Scouting was a great outlet for me, because it allowed me to get out into nature and experience it firsthand … and that ties you into that bond: the lake you’re canoeing on is water, and that’s what the bear and moose are drinking; it’s part of the ecosystem. And I didn’t just go through Boy Scouts; I’m an Eagle Scout, and you’re an Eagle Scout for life once you attain that rank. Part of that is to continually give back, to find ways to do service. For me, raising awareness about water is a great social mission. We are able to collect money through the Wahter Man Project that we can donate to really empower the organizations that are on the ground, providing clean water to the people that need it the most.
WO: How do you determine where the money that you raise goes?
Luke: I research the organizations, and one that I’m really passionate about right now is water.org. They have this infrastructure that they’re able to leverage to quickly and efficiently get water to people that need it. And you don’t only give them money; you can tell them exactly where you want that money to go. Right now, we’re helping out the relief effort in Haiti.
WO: How did you get your art into the police station? Did you get arrested, and mention to them that you’re an artist?
Luke: Fortunately, it was nothing that wild. They had a posting in the newspaper, and since I live here in Williston, it’s a nice fit. It’s close and convenient, and it’s a beautiful place. I am very humbled to have my artwork there.
WO: How has the exhibit been received?
Luke: Very well. Really, I was just trying to get exposure, and get people thinking and talking about water. I didn’t expect to sell anything — but I ended up selling my most expensive painting on the first day.
WO: Overall, how would you sum up your experience of having your artwork on display at the police station?
Luke: I think it’s been, by far, the best opportunity for me to showcase my work. It has given me a lot of confidence, and helped to get me really focused. (The police department has) been very supportive, and having that support behind me has really meant a lot.
Shawn Luke’s Wahter Man project will be on display in the Community Room at the Williston Police Station through mid-August. For more information, contact the WPD at 764-1152 or visit Luke’s website, www.wahterman.com.