From popping bottles with celebrities to sporting paint covered jeans, Shawn Kolodny quit his high-paying profession in hospitality to pursue a fulfilling life as an artist. Now with a breakout career as a contemporary pop artist, Kolodony is getting ready for his solo exhibition Fake Fulfillment Center, which will pop up at the Boulan South Beach during this year’s Art Basel.
We sat down with the former nightlife tycoon to discuss why he decided to leave his job, what motivated his newest exhibit, and which Oliver Cole artist inspires him the most.
After running Pink Elephant, VIP Room, and most recently Provocateur, why did you decide to leave NYC nightlife? Shawn Kolodny: Consider it more of an evolution, than a leaving. I’ve been in hospitality for 25 years and I’ve also been an artist for 25 years. As life takes you, for many years, I followed the paycheck instead of following my heart and not having the courage and confidence in myself that I could survive, make it, and live as an actual artist. But even after several failed attempts, I was always drawn back to art. So I decided, lets do this.
Your artwork focuses on narcotics. Did you battle with addictions when you ran some of these nightclubs? SK: I played with drugs probably more than I care to admit. On top of that, I was deeply insecure and constantly seeking approval and validation from those around me. Not only were drugs an issue, but brands were an issue too. I had to have the coolest stuff: the Gucci suits, the expensive car, the fancy boat. That’s what this series is about: fake fulfillment. As a society, we place so much emphasis on stuff, but like drugs, they’re a temporary fix. Was I addicted to narcotics? No. Do my own life experiences influence my art? Absolutely.
Were you coming to the realization that you wanted to pursue art when you were working in nightlife? SK: 100 percent. Becoming an artist is hard—putting your personal stuff out there is difficult and scary. Self-doubt creeps in, but eventually, the feel and the draw to start, and to continue, and to grow, and to make this my life, overpowered everything else.
Tell us about a standard day in your Wynwood Art studio? SK: I always used to joke in nightlife that I had a 9-5, just the other one. But now I have the real 9-5. I wake up at 7:30 am and go right to the studio. The irony, is that I work more now as an artist that I ever did owning hospitality places.
Would you say your connections with high net worth clients and others from your hospitality life are helping you come out of the gate big? SK: As a matter a fact yes. I couldn't have created the Fake Fulfillment Center without Think Hospitality Group—owners of Boulan and Plymouth hotels. Some liquor companies came through also, Pernod Ricard and Bertard Belieu. And my personal addiction JetSmarter, has made my constant trips between MIA and NYC an absolute dream.
Take us through your exhibition, The Fake Fulfillment Center. SK: The Fake Fulfillment Center is a social interactive journey through my artwork, inviting guests to consider and reflect on the role addiction plays in their lives. We often look at people on drugs and think poorly of them, yet most of us are addicted to something. Whether it be luxury goods, social media, music, sports, even air to name a few, we look to fill the emptiness in our lives with stuff. This grows into dependence with withdrawal symptoms similar to real drugs. The message I am trying to get across is that there is only one fix for the emptiness and the pain—the cure is you. The installation begins awkwardly in a doctor’s waiting room. Guests walk in and put on Lab coats, a safety precaution. The rest you’ll have to come to Miami to see for yourself.
What emotions do you hope to evoke in your viewers? SK: I hope I get people to think about their own addictions for a second. We so often blaze through life not realizing what we’re hooked on. It’s meant to take you a little deeper and think ‘what am I addicted to?’
So it’s simple to say that you’re excited for Art Basel. SK: I’ve never been this excited for anything in as long as I can remember.
Today, you’re represented with some of the most successful street artists at Oliver Cole Gallery, the largest in Wynwood. How does that feel and where do you see you’re art going in the future? SK: It feels awesome. I’m so grateful.
Which pop artist at Oliver Cole inspires your work the most? SK: I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Mr. E and Whisbe—see their process and watch their careers blow up. Just looking to catch up.