A kid from Norway, the Godfather, the Bulgarian Beast and a guy named Mike—it reads like the opening scene of a comic book. Cue the secret villain. Really, it’s the origin story of Chicago-based artist, sculptor and lighting designer Dan Shaughnessy IV. And as out of this world as it may sound, it’s the honest truth.
Born in Norway, Shaughnessy arrived in Chicago as a bright-eyed School of the Art Institute of Chicago student. By happenstance, universal design or, perhaps, gravitational pull, the budding creative was introduced to three pillars of the local sculpting-cum-metalworking community who would shape this young buck into a sensation of artistry: Terrence Karpowicz, aka “the Godfather” and master of all materials; Boyan Marinov, “the Bulgarian Beast” and a problem-solving whiz; and Mike Helbing, the quirky guy and atypical artist, as Shaughnessy affectionately recalls his teachers. “You don’t really see people doing mentorships—or really in Chicago,” he says. “I was grateful to be selected and shown the ropes.”
After coming up under the greats, the artist emerged with a singular style that draws on each sculptor’s signature. “Mixing all those together in a cauldron is what I popped out as,” Shaughnessy says. “Their passion for stainless steel and steel has imprinted on me.” Now working almost exclusively with those two materials, he has forged an aesthetic that is timeless yet filled with whimsy. “I love pieces that are elegant, minimal—that have a style that’s kind of hard to put into words,” he continues, “something that stands out and that’s unique. … I find it’s a great combination [working] with stainless steel and light.”
Shaughnessy’s work can be found throughout Chicago and its surrounds—from commercial-scale light fixtures to a 22-foot public sculpture in the form of a dandelion in Skokie—part of his Lorax series—to a pair massive giraffes (18 feet and 7 feet, respectively) erected in Lake Forest as a private commission on the occasion of the patron’s 50th wedding anniversary. Today, the Lorax pieces—loosely inspired by the imaginative world of Dr. Seuss—remain the cornerstone of his portfolio. “What really excites me,” Shaughnessy says, “are the custom projects… that’s right up my alley.”