Picture this: a freshly opened Mountain Dew, Guided by Voices playing through the record player and wood chips flying everywhere. That, my friends, is a typical afternoon for Sean StarWars in his downtown Laurel studio, Woodcut Funhouse.
For 25 years, Sean has been gracing the printmaking world with his colorful and eccentric pop culture infused prints, and he has no plans of slowing down now. In fact, he’s hoping to be cranking out more prints than ever by next year when he hopes to be full-time at the Funhouse.
In 1985 Sean was a 15-year-old skateboarder in Virginia looking for a way to stand out and be original, so he started with his t-shirt.
“I didn’t want t-shirts that other people had so I was like, ‘OK, here’s a magic marker. I’m just going to write something stupid on my shirt so at least no one will think I got it at Belk,’” he recalled with a laugh.
As a kid, Sean never thought of himself as artistic or creative, outside of writing stories that he would occasionally illustrate. It wasn’t until he took a class on making relief prints with linoleum that everything clicked.
“When I found out about printmaking, I connected with it instantly. I was like, this is what I want to do forever,” he explained, “From the first time ever, I knew that I loved that feeling of cutting into the material. That was about 25 years ago, and I’ve made a hell of a lot of prints in that time.”
After moving to Baton Rouge for grad school, Sean found a catalog one night while cleaning the print studio. It contained the artwork of two people that he credits with giving him the motivation to stick it out at LSU instead of packing his shit and heading back to Virginia.
“Bill Fick and Tom Huck were the only two artists in that catalog that were making anything remotely compelling,” he recalled, “I really responded to their big, ugly, aggressive woodcut imagery.”
Drawing – creating something out of nothing – never appealed to Sean. Instead, he preferred to start with everything (a piece of wood) and carve until his image emerged.
Sean said, “When you turn something loose, you just never know what’s going to come from it.”
And how right he is. When Sean started grad school at LSU, he had the idea to fuck with his Southern peers. He just assumed, being from Virginia, that everyone in the South had some connection to the KKK. Inspired by Philip Gustan’s Klansman imagery, he mixed the Klan with the 70s cereal character Frankenberry and created a monsterpiece.
“I had no idea that this was going to end up being such an iconic image of my own,” he said.
Frankenberry vs. The Klan was Sean’s breakout piece, catching the eye of Tom Huck, owner of Evil Prints in St. Louis, Mo. and the very guy whose artwork inspired him to keep making prints, in the ‘90s and landing him a spot as a member in what would
become the Outlaw Printmakers along with original members like Huck, Bill Fick, Dennis McNett, John Hancock and others.
Unfortunately, after completing grad school, Sean trashed all of his woodcuts in efforts to start fresh, but fear not. You still have a chance to check out the new and improved Frankenberry vs. The Klan on his website, woodcutfunhouse.com.
Sean recently tried his hand at being a full-time printmaker, following in the footsteps of Charles Bukowski and Richard Pollard of Guided by Voices (both of whom decided to follow their dreams later rather than sooner in life).
Although it was heaven while it lasted, reality hit. The long waiting periods between payments on Sean’s various projects became financially draining on the family of seven.
“Art is supposed to be this holy thing where you’re not thinking about money, but you have to live. You have to survive, pay rent or whatever you’re doing,” he stressed.
Although his goal is to make it back to the Funhouse full time, these days StarWars is a 46-year-old sixth-grade social studies teacher at the New William J. Berry Elementary School in Heidelberg by day, dad and husband to five kids and, presumably, the most patient and supportive wife ever by night and printmaker somewhere in between.
Sean knows to take his business to the next level, to make it his top and only priority, he has to have pieces with a bigger price tag.
“I don’t like to price [my art] out to where people can’t afford it; I like that it’s accessible,” he revealed, “But I want to figure out a way to make things that take up more space, that reflect more time spent on the piece, that are more visually impressive, and that are more valuable.”
For all you long-time Sean Starwars fans or maybe those of you who just got a case of the heart-eyes, keep a watch on this guy. He’s not nearly done creating yet.
“I don’t know when I will have accomplished what I want to do fully,” he said, “There’s so many things I want to accomplish, and in order to do those things, I’ve just got to keep working harder.”