Painting His Way Back to the Big Island


November 9, 2022

Words by: Mona Rose Butler

Photography by: Emily Welz

Artist Shawn Mackey’s unique style frequently pays tribute to his great love of Hawaii, and recently he’s been able to focus wholeheartedly on that expression of love thanks to a big shift in his career

Shawn Mackey is a world-renowned artist, with thousands of followers on social media and with paintings hanging in galleries in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Recently his title has gotten a bit longer: full-time, world-renowned artist.

Having split his time between teaching art over the past 11 years, 2022 is the first year of not having to work a full day, only to come home to work some more. Particularly in the past 5 or 6 years, he’s been doing the equivalent of two full-time jobs.

“Actually having the time to focus on the art has been amazing. I think I’ve been a lot more productive and a lot more creative. During those 11 years, I would come home after working all day, have a nap, and then spend another 3 or 4 hours in my studio. This is definitely a lot better,” Shawn explained.

This milestone comes thanks to finding enough of the right galleries for his art style, which means he can make the switch financially. His art has been triggering a response in people who want now, more than ever, to appreciate it in their own homes. 

Shawn’s style isn’t stagnant. It took time to evolve to where it is and he foresees it continuing to evolve some more. In his earlier years as an artist, he was fascinated by abstract art and used the style heavily in his pieces.

“I fell in love with Jackson Pollock and Piccaso. My art had that vibe to it and I did that for a while. Once I became a teacher, I was teaching the Renaissance era and started studying Michelangelo, da Vinci, these artists that did a lot of high realism. I started really studying their techniques and I spent 3 or 4 years just being a realism artist and not doing any abstract art at all.”

Shawn Mackey

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Shawn Mackey

He continued to bounce between abstract and realism – one for a few months and then the other, but neither felt like the perfect fit. The epiphany came when he decided to mix the two together. It wasn’t something that was finalized overnight, however. It began as realism with elements of abstract art introduced in the background in the way of various colours and textures. Then slowly, over a few years, the two seemingly opposite styles were married together on his canvases. 

“What really excites me and gets me motivated is the learning process and discovering new techniques and discovering new ways to combine these techniques. I don’t really know where [my style] is heading. It’s almost like a science lab! I’ll discover something new and then try to incorporate it.”

Shawn’s art is heavily inspired by the beauty of Hawaii and its many islands, with a prominent vintage feel. His art is shown in multiple galleries across the Hawaiian Islands and he will be doing several art shows there in 2023. During these shows, Shawn paints live for guests who mill about the gallery admiring his completed works. At the end of the night, the newly completed painting remains at the gallery.

“I took a trip with my wife to Hawaii a little over 10 years ago and totally fell in love with the island. So I started thinking about how I could get back to Hawaii, and through my art was the way to go.”

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