Adam Shiverdecker claims to be “working towards becoming a better artist” – yet this talented sculptor already has a solo art exhibition and several acclaimed group shows under his belt. To top off this résumé, his piece entitled Mutiny took the award for Best Graduate Work at the 52nd-Annual Student Art Exhibition at McMaster Gallery in March.
Mutiny is a sculpture of a large, featureless, genderless, doll-sized figure. The androgynous being has hand-less arms folded across its chest and miniature incarnations of itself standing on each shoulder. The central figure stands looking nonchalant, while the two small figures play out a tug-of-war across his head and operate the pump-jack that they have burrowed into the larger figure’s skull.
“Yeah, they are pumping my head and I don’t even care!” said Shiverdecker, as he folds his own arms across his chest and imitates the unflappable facial expression of his creation.
His sculptures might look like characters from “A Nightmare Before Christmas” to some, but his art is not for kids, and Shiverdecker’s ominous sculptures are as unusual and complex as his name itself.
Shiverdecker was raised in small-town Ohio, “in the middle of a field with one school and two traffic lights.” This field happens to be beside the birthplace of aviation and Wright Cycle Shop in Dayton, where the Wright Brothers constructed the world’s first successful airplane from bicycle parts. Shiverdecker examines having lived in a world that was completely immersed in the celebration of aviation. Existing within a theme park dedicated to The Flying Machine is strange to outsiders; however, “Wright Brothers are everywhere. It is the way of life around Dayton – it just seemed normal,” he said.
With a normal, rural upbringing, surrounded by planes, you may think that Shiverdecker would share his hometown’s infatuation. But he tends to defy expectations. Ironically many of his newest works deal with “the irresponsible side of technology.” His art pinpoints problems and pitfalls associated with our advancement with machines.
Shiverdecker set out to become a Mechanical Engineer. He studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toledo but at the last minute turned to art and graduated with a Bachelors of Art Education degree. In case you were wondering, he had chosen Mechanical Engineering to design roller coasters, not planes. The Ohio native was drawn to Columbia for its sunny appeal and is wrapping up his graduate studies at USC and preparing for his life of creating art.
A flawless, ebony, to-scale Airbus A-380 piece he is working on exemplifies his criticism of modern advances in technology. The largest commercial plane invented, seating up to 853 people, he sees as symbolic of society’s unnecessary technological excess.
The presence of militaristic icons that also recur in his art does not imply the artist glorifies war in any shape or form. Instead emblems of war are replicated to deal with the false barriers and false layers of protection societies have built for themselves by creating weapons and warfare.
The artist’s earlier grotesque sculptural forms deal with other disturbing occurrences and have been heavily influenced by Kurt Vonnegut, best known for writing “Slaughterhouse Five.” These works focus on disturbing themes such as death and dismemberment. At the time the artist would see images in the media that would drive him to express his sensitivity to the sadness he saw with art. “I find needless death, suffering, and the loss of innocence disturbing,” Shiverdecker said.
Francis Bacon is another artistic influence. He admires expressions of pure unbridled emotion. The turquoise surface glaze on the latest ceramic “head” in the series looks like dripping paint was applied at the crown and is slowly rolling down to the neck. This head evokes Bacon’s “Pope” painting and is one of a collection of thirty-two ceramic head forms that make up his series so far.
Each featureless head is cut-off from the neck down, and each is unique from all others since the artist has worked different techniques on each one.
Shiverdecker’s works are open for interpretation, but most lean towards mythical emblems, metaphors, and social pessimism. Irony and humor are also prevalent themes. “Mutiny,” for example, is a metaphor for “the way society is prone to bleeding itself dry,” he said.
It is not all doom and gloom in this talented emerging artist’s studio. Shiverdecker provides comic relief from the seriousness of his own art using blunt and sarcastic wit. “I would love for my work to be seen as the artistic equivalent of a South Park episode,” he said smirking. “Seriously – you can watch any old episode and understand exactly what was happening in the news at the time. It is the greatest social commentary of our generation. The humor they use is so bizarre and so blatant, but it is all done with cartoon characters and they can get away with it. I love that show!”