By Jason Campbell
Going into my meeting with Shylamar “Shy” Andrews I had nothing to go on. No website full of his artwork to reference, no Facebook page to lend insight into his personality, and really not much of any idea of his style of work (provided by Cordell). In fact, the only reason Shy is a part of this issue at all is the chance encounter he had with Cordell at the Cornhill Arts Festival. All I knew was that Shy was an intriguing young man who made an impression.
I try not to script my interviews, but I like having an idea of what the artist is about and then let the artist steer the direction of the conversation. In that regard, I guess I was somewhat prepared to meet Shy.
Sitting in Spot Coffee, seventeen-year-old Shy shared his sketchbook with me. Since he’s still in high school, at the School of the Arts, this was the only body of work we had to go on. He has not yet been part of any exhibits or festivals. Shy’s artwork is a mixture of adult cartoons and Dali-esque surrealism inspired in part by comic books, anime and his own extremely vivid dreams. If you’re my age you may remember an early John Cusack movie “One Crazy Summer” in which his caricatures come to life, leaping off of the page. Shy’s drawings have a similar feel to them, but the tone of the pieces lean towards an experienced, more polished approach. Most of Shy’s drawings are done in ballpoint pen ink and explore themes of demons, violence, sex, and chaos, but also of peace, or more accurately, spirituality. The cartoonish styling recedes to display strong artistry and amazing creativity. As I kept retracing the lines of the drawings with my eyes, I would notice another element within the piece. His art keeps your eye moving and is unlike most anything else I’ve seen locally.
As we continued our conversation, Shy abruptly switched topics to music. He deftly handed me a cd that he made for me to take home. I was taken a bit by surprise for two reasons, first, I had no way of knowing he made music, and two, that he had prepared this cd for me. His gift made a real impression on me, and I think my reaction may have affected him as well. Although I’m not a huge hip hop listener, I do have an appreciation for it. After all, I did grow up during the explosion of Wu Tang, Dre, Snoop, Tribe, Pharcyde, etc. and basically everyone I knew was listening to one of these. Upon hearing this, Shy grinned and told me “I think you have soul, I think you’re gonna like my cd.” My curiosity grew by the second.
Shy spoke of his desire to be multi-dimensional – drawing, rapping, and making movies. Each medium provides a different outlook into who he is as an artist, but also serve as outlets for his various creative ideas. I asked Shy what art meant to him, if he could compact all his energies into a single idea, and to my surprise, he did (kind of)! Shy stated that art is its own energy that can change environments by spreading different views. “Art has deep roots as it is the basis for all other fields. If you think about it, everything is a form of art, every object was created by someone; it doesn’t matter what it is or when it was made. Art has the spiritual energy to enlighten, to heal the mind so that the body may heal.” Shy likened the power of art to that of a shaman – the ability to access spirits to do good or evil. When I asked Shy what he wanted people to take away from his spot in Art House Press, he told me “That’s up to you – I want you to do your thing, to use your artistic sense to portray your impression of me.” He wanted me to take the wheel and he was truly willing to leave it all up to me. I’d say that’s a pretty ballsy approach for such a young dude, but that’s part of the enigma of Shy, who appears to be an old soul in a young man’s body.
Shy started to fidget a bit and said, “Let’s walk.” Um, ok, another abrupt switch. We started on a walk to Manhattan Square Park. Here I felt like I learned the most about Shy. He seemed a little constrained or uncomfortable in the coffee house and seemed totally at ease as we walked in the perfect summer evening.
He told me a bit more about some of his life experiences: like getting hit by cars (yes, plural, as in more than once) and living in the various parts of the city. Shy said he’s from all over the place – that he’s lived in just about any section of Rochester you can think of. I wondered how that could be for a seventeen-year-old, but I figured that would be too personal for him to share. Shy related his story of being chased through a neighborhood by a group of dudes as he walked a girl home. “Into the hood again, dodgin’ hooligans…” He mentioned that eerie feeling you get when you walk into an area that you know is bad just by the way it makes you feel.
We talked about injuries and how people react to them, both mentally and physically. Much of this talk revolved around staying positive and not letting the demons win. Shy’s perspective comes down to spirituality, and advancing in the face of negativity. “I circ’ round the block just to humble the conscience, exhale the bullshit to rid the air of nonsense…” The theme of “earth, wind, and fire” was a recurring one. Shy had mentioned it a couple of times over coffee, and then again while we walked to the park. I think for Shy “earth, wind, and fire” represents the strength of the spirit to overcome the elements of life. To be one with nature and not try to stand in the way of its progress, even when that progress is at your expense. Stay positive. I can’t think of a more important lesson for any age – life happens, and sometimes that hurts. It’s how we react and learn that dictates the future outcome, not the fact that we got knocked down.
To be at Manhattan Square Park near dusk with only a handful of people dispersed throughout, the park felt simultaneously peaceful and admittedly a touch foreboding, but Shy seemed as happy as could be.
As we sat on a bench our conversation changed course to kung fu. That may sound silly considering this is supposed to be about Shy and his art, but kung fu is a martial art. Going back to Shy’s spiritual outlook, kung fu actually makes a lot of sense. Martial arts are practiced to unite one’s mind, body, and spirit. It is through discipline and practice that one may elevate as high as desire and intention may lead, and also to learn patience. The main components of kung fu philosophy are breathing, relaxing, and focusing. In those terms, kung fu is very much an art form – ways to connect to your emotions and understand them, so as to live your passion. There are many excerpts attributed to kung fu such as “be like water, and like wind, and flame, and earth, and stone” , and “the internal reflects the external” that recall Shy’s earth, wind, and fire references.
Dusk faded into the summer night’s signaling the end of our interview. I asked Shy if there was anyplace I could drive him – I felt weird leaving him at the park by himself. From his place of elevated consciousness he thought about the offer for a moment and then said plainly, “Thanks but I think I’ll just chill here for a bit.” I asked again just to be sure he really wanted me to leave him sitting on a bench in a nearly deserted city park, but he said, “Nah, I’m just gonna stay here and practice some kung fu.”
So, I took the short walk back to the car and started home. Listening to Shy’s cd I was really impressed with how skillful the arrangements are for a young person working on his own. I would liken Shy’s delivery to a combination of Guru’s narrative style (from the old Gang Starr records) and Q Tip’s (from Tribe) positivity. “My kinetic charge moves nations, building many positive relations…”
As I listened to Shy’s lyrics, I harkened back to our earlier discussions. Unbeknownst to me, Shy had managed to work most of his songs into our conversation in an easy, unforced manner. I simply started laughing to myself as I drove home, not knowing if I just got played, or if the consistency of Shy’s stories to his songs made them more believable. Though the stories and songs were relayed slightly differently, the main details were solidly aligned. The fact that this young man can express himself so effectively in two very different mediums, with little or no training is simply amazing. I think Shy’s potential is infinite. As long as he is able to focus his energies in a positive direction Shy can achieve anything. Many times we only hear negativity regarding our city’s young people – violence, drugs, drop-out rates, etc. The success stories seem to get passed over and as a result they become the exceptions. It was my pleasure to meet with Shy and share a bit of his story so that a positive light may be shed on a talented young man living in “Roc City – not known to give pity.” I can’t wait to go to an art opening featuring Shy’s artwork, buy his music or watch his movie so I can say, “I met that dude and we talked about kung fu.”