Shawn Payne is quiet, but you’d never know it from his art. Throughout the studio at Art Enables in Washington, DC, Shawn’s pieces are instantly recognizable for their color, embellishments, and subject matter: designer shoes.
When I arrived, Shawn was working on a drawing for the upcoming Art Enables show on Valentine’s Day. In the spirit of the holiday, he’s drawn candles, chocolate, and a pink teddy bear on a wood table. There’s a window in the background, behind which you can see a skyline of buildings lit up at night. But what your eye is immediately drawn to is a pair of red, sparkly high-heeled shoes, drawn with acrylics and embellished with glitter. They’re detailed and elegant–shoes for a very special occasion.
“I’ve always painted,” Shawn says. “I started drawing when I was 20 years old … The clothing is something I enjoy designing.”
For 7 years, Shawn’s been going to Art Enables—an organization whose mission is to provide resources and support for those with disabilities, allowing them to express themselves through images rather than words. And, as long as anyone at the studio can remember, Shawn’s been making fashion statements with his drawings.
Glitter and Embellishments
One of the things that makes Shawn’s work stand out is the embellishments on his drawings: glitter, beads, and rhinestones. Throughout his pieces, Shawn uses eye-catching materials to draw attention to a particular element—for example, the red shoes in the Valentine’s Day piece, or the straps on a pair of ballet slippers. The decision to work with mixed media came from the music industry—particularly the clothing of rappers.
“You know, a lot of rappers wear jewelry, designer jewelry, like chains and stuff,” he tells me. Their style choices that made Shawn think of the idea, and he’s been using it ever since. In fact, he brings his own glitter to the studio from home. . “The glitter is something I enjoy,” Shawn explains, and it’s easy to see this from his drawings, where glitter and beaded detailing make the images pop from the page.
Recently, Shawn’s art has undergone a stylistic change. In the past, his pieces tended to be detailed shoes against a simple background. For example, an elegant, strappy blue heel with an open toe and beading on the straps and heel, set against a cream background. Another piece, titled Southwest Glitter Boot, is of a striped, knee-high boot with a purple sole and southwest design made out of green glitter. The boots colors seem to vibrate against the white background.
In contrast, many of Shawn’s recent works have detailed backgrounds that reflect his move into storytelling, with boots as a critical element in a complex world. This is especially apparent in a series of pieces he’s done based on fairytale figures: Jill and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Old Mother Hubbard.
Cinderella walks through the palace halls, clad in a designer dress and her signature glass slippers, one having been lost a few paces behind. Old Mother Hubbard stands beside her signature shoe. Clad in black and white striped pants, Jill climbs the beanstalk—set in the middle of a city—wearing bright red heels. While all of these artworks tell a story, the bodies and faces of the characters are not shown. Only legs and feet are visible. Shawn situates his art in a precise moment, but without taking the focus off of the shoes he’s designed. Many of these moments are drawn from real life, not fairytales, such as his painting Yellowboots on Rhode Island Ave—the street where Art Enables is located. A woman walks down the sidewalk, passing a city bus and a local store, but your eye is immediately drawn to the pair of bright yellow fashion boots she’s wearing. It’s a story, but shoes and clothing are integral to the narrative.
Although much of Shawn’s work focuses on shoes, his interest extends to fashion more broadly. He likes to draw clothing, particularly dresses, and often draws inspiration from TV, celebrity fashion, and high-profile events.
“And pictures on the Internet,” Shawn adds. “You know, celebrity pictures, award events, something like that. Award events like the Oscars, the Emmys … Next, I was thinking about doing a fashion piece on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” Shawn says. “It’s somewhat of a fashion event. It’s a star-studded event.”
In particular, he wants to draw a woman wearing a designer gown, walking to the event. Before starting his piece, Shawn plans to watch the dinner and take note of what’s being worn. But his intention is not to replicate a particular outfit, but rather to create his own, using the event as inspiration. Later this year Shawn hope to do a drawing inspired by the Metropolitan Gala this coming May.
“I actually made a fashion piece at the red carpet at the Oscars, which has already been sold during the Christmas holidays, to someone in Hollywood,” Shawn tells me, smiling. “I was totally thrilled.”
Shawn likes to make art because it allows him to speak through images. When I ask him what draws him to art, he responds instantly: “Expressing myself, of course.” He says it simply, as if the answer is too obvious to need much elaboration. Of course, he’s right. Even a brief glance at Shawn’s art instantly shows individuality, from the subject matter to the colors and embellishments he uses. The vitality is palpable.
And someday Shawn hopes to see the shoes he draws and designs literally come to life. “My goal is to create them someday,” Shawn says. “I always admire shoe designers like Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Charlotte Olympia.”
Throughout all his works, Shawn is driven by one goal: “I’ve always wanted…, to make art come to life.”