December 17, 2015

Paying Homage with Austin Shull – 2015 Fall SOLOS Artist

At AAC, our commitment to contemporary art and the community drives us to offer the most fulfilling visual arts experience we can. One of the ways we do this is by asking artists to talk about their work, adding another layer to the exciting complexities created by their exhibitions.

Austin Shull, one of our 2015 Fall SOLOS artists, uses teleidoscopic images that allow us to explore our perceptions of the world and our views on gender, sexuality, and beliefs through his work When John Met John When John Met Harry – a tribute to John Lyon Burnside III, inventor of the teleidoscope.

A teleidoscope allows us to see various, fragmented patterns of light which we may adjust to form entirely new visual landscapes with a simple movement of our hand to revolve the lens. The teleidoscope generates no light of its own, and therefore is showing us images that already exist – only in an entirely new construction. Austin’s exhibition, Homage, recognizes both Burnside’s invention and his life of activism during the mid 2oth Century.

We asked Austin to discuss his work more:


Austin Shull, Teleidoscopic Image: Deserted Island, 2014.
Austin Shull, Teleidoscopic Image: Deserted Island, 2014.

What inspired this body of work?

The body of work Homage, began as a response to a belief that the still photographic image holds a great amount of power or sway over our psychological being. This goes for both the images we take personally with our cell phones or camera’s and those that are pushed into our periphery via the media.

At the time that I began Homage, I was searching for a strategy to create a single image comprised of a multitude of photographs, which would somehow destabilize the source imagery without the use of digital software. How I was going to achieve this came with reading an obituary.

Why and how did this body of work begin to form in your mind?

A few years ago I came across an obituary of the inventor John Lyon Burnside III. In the late fifties Burnside invented a device called the teleidoscope, which was basically a kaleidoscope without a bead filled lens. The teleidoscope would take whatever was viewed through it and create a colorful mandala.

…a response to a belief that the still photographic image holds a great amount of power or sway over our psychological being.

Just as intriguing, were the other aspects of Burnside’s life. He was life-long partners with pioneering gay rights activist Harry Hay and together they created real and lasting change on many progressive fronts. I began to see Burnside’s invention as a radical act or gesture, created to allow for an altered perspective of the ordinary. So I started making teleidoscopes through which I could photograph various groupings of images that I had chosen for their significant impact.

Installation view of Austin Shull's Homage. Photo by Greg Staley.
Installation view of Austin Shull’s Homage. Photo by Greg Staley.

In three sentences or less, tell us about your process.

It’s very seldom that I begin a project and finish it on the same continuum. Usually I begin a project, get excited and then find myself stuck. But since this happens with almost every project, I then pick up something I had started previously and had been ruminating on, and develop it further. It’s my three-year lag.

I began to see Burnside’s invention as a radical act or gesture, created to allow for an altered perspective of the ordinary.


Austin Shull received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bard College, his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and his Master of Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York, NY. He has participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, and has taught at various institutions, including the University of Syracuse, Georgia State University, and Brooklyn College. He is currently one of AAC’s Resident Artists.


The Fall SOLOS 2015 remains on view until December 20, 2015. Stop by and see it before it closes! Galleries are open noon to 5 pm through this weekend. You can also learn more about Austin’s work by visiting his website.

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