Artomatic 2012: Artist Sean Hennessey – 6 Artomatics Under His Belt

This blog post was originally published in 2012.

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Sean Hennessy is participating in his sixth! ArtOMatic!  He’s done all but the first one and the one in 2004.

“I keep coming back because I love the DC arts community and ArtOMatic is the biggest, most fun art show DC has.  It’s like going to a family reunion.  I am a HUGE advocate for the show!  I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of awesome people because of this show and it has really deepened my connection to DC.  While I strive to further my career as an artist by entering juried shows (and understand that path), I have a love for free-for-all events.  Personally, I find pretty much the same percentage of crap as I find in large juried shows or exhibits of contemporary works anywhere – only most of those shows don’t have the chaos, fun, and joy of ArtOMatic, and I love seeing artwork, especially when I am able to meet the artists.”

Sean started drawing and painting about 25 years ago.  He says that during high school he was fortunate to know a community of professional, though struggling, artists who shaped his decision to study sculpture in college.  After college, he worked in theater creating and painting sets and making props for about 10 years.  During that time he also worked on making his own paintings and sculptures.  About 8 years ago, he quit working for others and started his business, Scenic Artisans, doing murals and decorative painting.  He began focusing on glass work about 4 or 5 years ago.

Describe what you’ll be showing this year.

I’m exhibiting 3 large steel-framed, painted, cast-glass panels.  I use common and slightly nostalgic objects to create narratives of possibilities, hopes, and imagination.  Each ArtOMatic I create pieces specifically for the show.  Because of the blissfully insane overcrowded nature of the exhibit, I try to show a very edited, minimal display.  I choose to make only three pieces to keep them digestible.  These pieces came about because after years of looking into it, I finally found the type of lighting that would properly backlight my glass.  I needed something long lasting, low wattage, low heat, low profile, even and SIMPLE.  I found a large LED panel to use.  The size of the panel dictates the size of my glass pieces.

I am a part of a new direction in glass art making called Glass Secessionism.  My hope is to make sincere work that inspries the viewer.  I’m not trying to be funny, satirical or ironic.  I just want to make honest work.

Tell us a bit about your materials and techniques.

I use building materials in my work:  glass, concrete and steel.  When I was younger I was a skateboarder and developed an intimate realtionship with concrete.  I rode on it, it bruised me, I repaired and waxed it, it cut me, and it gave me a great deal of fun.

I began working in glass a few years ago and form it using molds and a kiln.  I weld steel frames and armatures to hold it all together.

The glass I work with it sometimes new glass, sometimes old glass that I reuse.  To form it, I use a technique called dry plaster casting.

I build a box inside of a large kiln.  Into the box I sift pre-fired, dry, unactivated plaster.  It is quite fine.  With my hands, sculpted objects, or found pieces, I make impressions in the plaster.  when I’m set with my designs, I lay sheets of glass overtop of the plaster and fire the kiln to 1550 degrees.  It takes about a day to fire it, and about a day for it to cool down.  Once it comes out of the kiln, I chop and grind the edges and prepare the glass surface to accept paint and concrete.  I use specialty glass paints to paint the surface of the glass.  Since concrete doesn’t want to stick to anything, I use a series of primers and acrylic modifiers to bond my concrete to the surface of the glass.  Once the concrete is cured, I use oxidizing stains to add a patina.  I then seal the concrete to protect the color and the glass panel gets framed in steel.

Sean notes that he would eventually like to add deeper dimension to his work, including sound, motion and video.  He wants to push to create more cohesive narratives in series and to do more, larger works, including public works (since he just completed his first public art project).

Because Sean is such an old-timer at ArtOMatic, I asked him about how to make the most of one’s exhibit space at ArtOMatic.  His reply:

I think artists need to know what they want out of the experience.  Do you wish to experiment?  do you wish to sell?  What impression do you want to make?  Figure that out and let your space follow the answers.

I’ve experimented with different approaches to my displays over the years.  I’ve created environments in which I hung my work, I’ve done faux finishing to accent pieces and display them in a clean professional way – wanting all the emphasis on my pieces, not on my display.  I wanted the impression to be:  that should be in a gallery!

If you are a professional artist who wants to sell, then you need to put up clear signage and prices and a way for people to contact you.  Setting out a comment book is also important.

I also advise not to overhang your work.  Simply show your pieces and nothing more.  I’ve known jurors and curators who don’t select artists for shows because they didn’t like one piece in their selection of 20 or so slides – it gives them a reason to whittle down their choices.  I believe that people who attend ArtOMatic have the same tolerances:  give your audience an inspiration to rest their eyes on, not a cacophony where nothing stands out.   I think it’s more respectful to your work, as well.

If you are doing installations or environment, then my advice above is pretty irrelevant.

Although it sounds as if Sean rarely hits a slump, he still has strategies for making it through:

“I play video games, go to the National Gallery of Art or Smithsonian (free museums are hard to beat!), or travel when I can.  Often I will go to a coffee shop or bar and sit by myself to draw.  I am also very fortunate to have a sizable network of close artist friends and that really helps to make slumps few and far between.  I think talking with and interacting with a variety of artists on a daily basis keeps me pretty inspired.”

Sean notes that his taste in art is all over the place, and offers a list of those who inspire him with the caveat that such a list changes often!  His current favorites include:

  • Kris Kuski.  “Over the top, creepy, decadent, more-is-more aesthetic that I love.”  He makes post apocalyptic shrines to gods and demons which Sean has yet to see in person.  Sean says, “Every time he posts a new work, I gush.”
  • Louis Comfort Tiffany.  “His work is so much of what inspires me:  magical realms, thick chunky glass and iron work, heavy yet ethereal, dark and bright – just amazing work with masterful craftsmanship!  I wish he designed entire cities!
  • Juan Munoz.  It was an exhibit of Juan Munoz’s work at the Hirshhorn Museum that took Sean back to sculpture after years of paining.
  • Margaret Boozer.  Sean calls her “one of the coolest ceramic artists out there:  layers of earth, cracking, decay, sediment – all stuff I love!”
  • El Greco.  “Haunting electricity in paint.  I have spent days in front of Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes at the National Gallery of Art.
  • Judith Schaechter.  “The best contemporary stained glass artist there is, creepily beautiful designs.”
  • Thomas Hart Benton.  “I like his manner of taking things from his world and turning them into epics and myths.
  • Cristina Cordoba.  Cristina creates desolate yearning figures in clay.  “Some of the most beautiful and powerful things I’ve ever seen.”
  • Anselm Kiefer.  Massive mixed media “paintings” with more cracking, lead, decay.

Sean’s favorite at ArtOMatic include: Roger Cutler, Melissa Burley, Zofie Lang, David D’Orio, Michael Janis, Christian Tribastone, Erin Antognoli, Drew Storm, Justin Cameron Joseph Corcoran, Matt McIntre and Nils Henrik Sundqvist.