Shawne Major

(1968– )

This mixed media piece by Louisiana artist Shawne Major includes plastic toys, doll hair, beads, buttons, paper, felt and satin flowers, velvet and satin ribbon, key rings, panty-hose, fabric, and poultry netting. Learn more »

Artist Shawne Major is known for her large, intensely colorful, rhythmic and visually sensual tapestries, or “physical paintings,” as she calls them. Major says she uses “discarded consumerism objects” in her wall hangings that have personal meaning to her or to other people, which, viewed from afar, are radiant with curious patterns. Up close, an observer sees sewn together, seemingly at random, incongruous items such as kitschy pieces of bright fabric, plastic toys, doll clothes, plastic swords, military buttons, watch parts, Asian money, fake furs from Israel, small electrical circuit boards, and other little fetishlike objects. Major buys her found object materials from garage sales, obtains them from friends and family, or purchases them on e-Bay. Her abstract art is pure imagination shaped by everyday reality.

“They are about what I’m thinking about at the time,” Major said of her unconventional tapestries. “I try to use things that relate to people’s lives. That brings their energy into my work. Some people ask me if I work out the design before I start. I don’t. I’m responding to what’s there, to the colors, to the shapes. It’s not lit up for me. Sometimes I see the path. I never know what it will look like but I know what I want it to feel like. The rhythms in the work might be reflective of things in my life. Originally, I was a painter and used objects in my work. I gave up the painting because I felt objects have more weight.”

Major’s sculpted tapestries are not simply created from raw emotion but are intellectual and emotional responses to the disposable consumerism of modern society. Works such as War Channel, Cornucopia, and Eating Cake, which appeared in the 2008 biennial Prospect.1 in New Orleans, reflect Major’s memories, experiences, changing moods, and her reactions to the flashing images of the evening television news that casually interweave war and catastrophe with trivialities.

“I am interested in how humans create their reality,” Major wrote. “With my work, I’m trying to re-create and analyze examples of the screens we use to create our realities. These screens being made up of our belief systems, whether current or residual from growing up. Religious, political, ideological, cultural, emotional scars, repressed desires — anything we’ve accepted or reacted against leaves a mark on this lens and affects our perceptions. I want my work to examine and represent these lenses. I’ve chosen to actualize these lenses in objects — rather than in paint or wood, bronze or other virginal art material because this psycho-emotional stuff is messy and I think the detritus from real living brings a richer and more appropriate vocabulary to the mix. I choose to sew these objects together in part because it is a visible connection as opposed to gluing which could conceal. It indicates the conscious being attempting to make sense of being conscious.”

She used a different analogy in a video interview for an exhibition in 2009 at Irvine Contemporary Gallery in Washington, D.C. “I choose objects like a writer chooses vocabulary,” she said. “When the piece is done, it reads as a novel and you can read deeper and deeper. It’s multi-layered . . . to tell a story.” Sewing came naturally for Major. “My aunts showed me,” she said. “Sewing seems more important and personal and it’s an important method of connection.”

Major was born on December 25, 1968, in New Iberia, Louisiana. She received a BFA degree at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette) in 1991, and in 1995 an MFA at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine. Major’s earliest inspiration was Robert Rauschenberg, the Texas-born pop artist who in the 1950s and 1960s became an icon in American art by incorporating newspapers, cardboard, and found objects and images in his paintings. “Because of him,” Major said, “I can make anything I want.” She also acknowledges the influence of Wassily Kandinsky “and his ideas about the spiritual and emotional properties of color,” and of abstract painters such as Richard Pousette-Dart, Kurt Schwitters, Lynda Benglis, and Nancy Graves.

After a living and working for several years in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York, where she met her husband, Sanjay, Major returned with her family to Louisiana in 2003. After the terrorist attacks upon New York’s World Trade Center in 2001, Major and her husband wanted to get out of the city. An old house in the countryside near Opelousas, owned by Major’s father, became available, replete with four acres of land and a large horse barn that was converted into Major’s studio.

Major has received a number of awards and grants, including an Art Omi International Artists’ Residency in New York City in 2009; a Joan Mitchell Foundation Career Opportunity Grant in 2008; a commission for a Canal TransArt–Public Art Bus Shelter Project in New Orleans in 2008; a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Artist Grant in 2008; an artist fellowship with the Louisiana Division of the Arts in 2006; artist in residence at Sculpture Space in Utica, New York in 1997; a workspace fellowship at Dieu Donne Papermill in New York City in 1996; and an artist in residence at the Corporation of Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1995.

Major’s work can be found in several public collections, including the Francis Greenburger Collection in New York City; the Hilliard Museum of Art in Lafayette, Louisiana; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans; the Frederick Weisman Foundation in Los Angeles, California; and the U.S. embassy in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo.


Cite This Entry

Chicago Manual of Style

Kemp, John R. "Shawne Major." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published September 12, 2012.

MLA Style

Kemp, John R. "Shawne Major." KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 12 Sept 2012. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

Suggested Reading

Would you like to learn more about this topic from books and other reading materials?

Cameron, Dan. Prospect 1: New Orleans: Catalogue. New York: Picturebook, 2008.

Kemp, John R. “A Tapestry of Art.” Louisiana Life (July/August 2009).

Sciortino-Rinehart, Natalie. “Shawne Major at Heriard-Cimino Gallery.” (May 15, 2010).

Wei, Lillie. “Deliverance: The Biennial.” Art in America (February 2009).


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