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McColl Center Exhibit Questions American Identity

Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance

For the last four years, Randy Shull has spent part of his year in Mexico.

He moved for the culture, the language, and the inspiration it gives him as an artist. All around him he saw the local artists defining what it meant to be Mexican.

"I felt like, well I could come to Mexico and have this experience that is really different than what I have in Asheville, but in the end I’m still from the United States.” Shull says. “So I began to ask myself, what is it to be uniquely American?”
To try to answer the question, Shull turned to the best American symbol he could think of:  the outline of the United States.

“And so I stared to play with it as an art form,” Shull says. “It felt like, yea, if I see it in advertising or at the back of a semi truck, it’s always the same shape. So I thought, what happens if it becomes a piece of art, what does that look like?”

Shull repeats the symbol throughout his recent work, now on display at the McColl Center for Visual Art.

In one piece he sets the U.S. outline on a blue background, almost like an island. A tangle of white spirals weaves within the borders. It’s titled, Guardian.

The U.S. outline is intended to invoke discussion about American identity.

Then there’s a bust of Daniel Boone. Out of his head pops the US outline, this time shaped out of an oven element. It’s titled, Hot Head.

It works , too. It won’t be turned on for the exhibit , however. It’s a fire hazard.

“I think what I’ve decided I’m going to do with it, because it probably will be an issue a lot of time that it won’t be able to be plugged in for exhibitions, is I think I’m going to do a hot dog roast and have all my friends cook hot dogs on it.”

In the end, however, Shull wants people to come up with their own definitions of his work, and the American identity.

“It’s too easy to take sides I think.” Shull says. “The questions are more complicated than red or blue. I just feel like there is a lot of gray area.”

“Maybe there should be a gray party,” Shull says, “one that understands that nothing is simple."

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.