"Troubled Waters" drawing in progress
Shawn Michael Warren working on the large-scale narrative piece, "Troubled Waters"

The narrative art of Shawn Michael Warren brings attention and awareness to events and individuals that have affected and shaped cultures and civilizations throughout the world.

His emphasis on narrative, historical subjects is a central feature of his larger viewpoint, which looks at history via the experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).

Warren often utilizes historic themes or narratives to communicate essential human truths, and initiate uncomfortable conversations surrounding race, sociopolitical subjects, and culture. He seeks to portray people with a grand humanity, rather than simply indicating a figure in a landscape.

Through narrative painting, Warren depicts these subjects in a way that captures the attention of the viewer and triggers empathy as well as the need to learn and fully understand the story behind its imagery.

How My Narrative Art Addresses Racism


Abbot’s Waterway

This narrative piece depicts the unknown black workers that helped develop and complete Abbot Kinney’s Venice Canals in 1905 Los Angeles, California.

Although their laborious contributions led to the success of the canals, the black laborers were not allowed to take residence in Venice, due to racist housing laws and racial segregation.

Narrative Art - Shawn Michael Warren, "Abbot's Waterway"
Shawn Michael Warren, “Abbot’s Waterway,” 2019, oil on linen canvas, 84 x 64 x 1.75 in., Permanent Collection of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Los Angeles, California, opening in 2023

In a Promised Land

“In A Promised Land” revisits the aftermath of the horrific Tulsa Massacre of 1921, which left Black Wall Street – an affluent black community in America – in ruin. What’s even more unnerving is that many survey courses of American and African American history had made a glaring omission to this event in history, until recent fictional shows such as HBO’s Watchmen and Lovecraft Country brought the story to mainstream media.

One has to wonder how this is even possible, but in the American conscience, forgetting has always been easier than remembering. In a country where most would like to consider racial discrimination something that all but ended with emancipation, and to think that holocausts are something perpetrated on foreign soils, a collective amnesia lasting nearly a century has buried the fact that a Black Holocaust did happen on American soil. The Tulsa race riot of 1921 is considered by many to be the deadliest occurrence of racial violence in American history.

Narrative paintings - Shawn Michael Warren, "In a Promised Land"
Shawn Michael Warren, “In a Promised Land,” 2015, oil on canvas, 8 ft x 15 ft x 6 in., 21c Museum Permanent Collection, Louisville, Kentucky

Troubled Waters

The protection and preservation of clean water has reached an unprecedented critical level across this country and the World. With the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the ongoing fight to protect the clean waters in Standing Rock, oil spills in our oceans, and the threat of the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration project losing significant funding, it is clear that our most precious natural resource is reaching high levels of contamination.

“Troubled Waters” is an allegory depicting those who have been and are being affected by the contamination of water here in the U.S., and it serves as a foreshadowing of things to come if all attempts to prevent further damage to our waters fail.

Narrative drawings - Shawn Michael Warren, "Troubled Waters"
Shawn Michael Warren, “Troubled Waters,” 2017, graphite pencil, charcoal, carbon pencil, 8 x 18 ft
Detail from "Troubled Waters"
Detail from “Troubled Waters”

Additional Realism Portrait Painting by Shawn Michael Warren:

Realism portrait paintings - Shawn Michael Warren
Shawn Michael Warren, “The House of Duvall,” 2021, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in., Private Collection

About the Artist:

Shawn Michael Warren was born in Chicago, IL. He received his BFA at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and also studied at the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy.

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