Although he’s usually labeled a performance artist, Briton Shaun Caton could be more accurately described as an art world occultist. Inspired by ice age cave art, Shamanistic ceremony and other esoterica, he wades deep into a hypnotic trance, conjuring ritualistic paint sessions that can last days, even weeks, at a time. Using a combination of fluorescent paint, UV lighting, archaic artifacts and a light sprinkling of voodoo, he’s created over 280 installation pieces over the last 30 years that bring to mind the aftermath of a rave in the Flintstones household.
Recently, at his private annex at The Other Art Fair, he sat in a corner, mumbling mantras and completely unresponsive to our questions, so we pulled aside Sean McClusky, Caton’s sometime collaborator and the curator of east London’s Maurice Einhardt Neu Gallery, for some more insights into his work.
How would you describe Shaun's performances?
Shaun does intricate, ritualistic pieces that go on for a number of hours where he builds and constructs and paints and develops a space in quite strange directions. We’ve done work with him before in our gallery and it went on for days. Today is only a four-hour show.
Where does Shaun’s inspiration come from?
A lot of Shaun’s inspiration is from ritual and mysticism and there are elements of that throughout – it’s quite primal, strange and restrained and worrying at times, but it also looks beautiful. It’s not just an onslaught; a lot of performance art can be quite wearying. These are visually beautiful pieces he creates with paint, structures and found objects and skulls, old dolls. It’s a construction, an assemblage that is not on a wall but in a room, and he’s part of it.
Do you have to be careful with him when he’s in a trance?
Oh definitely. You have to give him his space to get into this trance-like state and leave him alone to get ready. It’s a very physical performance for him.
Why does Shaun wear a mask in his performances?
He wears many different costumes in his performances. He wears costumes just to add mystery to it I’m sure, but I haven’t asked him about it.
How authentic does the spiritual experience he creates feel?
Well, a spiritual experience is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it, really? Whether it works for someone or not is up to them, but he believes in what he’s doing and I’m sure that rubs off on most people.
You’ve said that he’s performed for several days for a time at the gallery. Did he ever go to sleep?
His lengthy performances are ordeals for him and he puts himself through it. Whether he sleeps or not, I don’t know, because he’s got a mask on.
By Aleks Eror