Nature Is The Focus For NAU's Artists In Residence

Oct 4, 2012

Northern Arizona University has two artists in residence this year: painter Bruce Aiken in the University's Honors Program. And installation artist Shawn Shabelund in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Master's Program in Sustainable Communities. Though their departments and mediums are different, there is a connective thread between the two...nature. Arizona Public Radio's Constance DeVereaux reports on the artists' work and how they'll spend their residencies.

Nature undergirds the creative visions of artists Shawn Skabelund and Bruce Aiken. Aiken is known for his detailed paintings of the Grand Canyon.

"Without the Grand Canyon, we wouldn't have much here, it's that spectacular."

And for 20 years, Shawn Skabelund's installations have focused on the impact of human excess on the natural world.

"Since my work deals with ecological and cultural genocides, I think ecology and culture are intertwined."

Both artists are working at NAU this year. Aiken, with students in the Honors Program and Skabelund with scientists in several NAU departments. Skabelund explains the focus of his artwork.

"This is a new realm that we can explore and give new information to the public about global warming, and about the importance of not only science, but art."

For painter Bruce Aiken, the new position is a chance to share his artistic passion for the Grand Canyon, where he lived and painted for more than 3 decades.

"I lived at the Grand Canyon from 1972 until 2006. About 33 years we lived at Roaring Springs at the bottom of the Canyon and that's where I executed most of my artwork."

Both artists are clasically trained, Aiken at the School of Visual Arts in New York and Skabelund at Utah State University. It's the lure of the natural world that has shaped their careers.

"The marks we've made on the landscape, it can be anything from the loss of habitat due to logging and mining and nuclear testing, you name it. For me, I wanted to take drawing into more physicality."

Aiken and Skabelund are approaching their residencies very differently. Skabelund will work with scientists to fuel his artistic vision. Aiken will take students on field trips and give lectures. For Bruce Aiken, being on campus is a nice change from so many years at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

"It's close to my studio and I can just jump on my bike and ride down. I like that really well."

An exhibition of Bruce Aiken's work is at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix through January. Shawn Skabelund's current installation, The Price of Entrance, can be seen at Grand Canyon Park Headquarters through the end of the week.