Local Artist Feature: Sean O’Meallie
Sean O’Meallie has a background in higher education and toy invention, but is known for his painted wood sculptures. His work is held in public, private and museum collections including the FAC, and have toured the U.S. and Europe. His work is featured in Launching the Imagination, a university text on art and design. Cowboy Pajamas, a 20’ playfully abstracted cowboy is located in downtown Denver, and he is the creator of The Manitou Chair Project, a four hour, half-mile installation down its historic main street. Balloon Man Running, commissioned for Denver RTD’s Central Park Station, was named Best New Public Artwork of 2017 by Denver’s Westword.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I exhibited an ability to render at an early age, but the encouragement I received from a beloved great aunt who was an accomplished artist has had a lasting influence. I was also exposed to the work of early 20th century modern masters in my elementary schooling.
What is your ideation process? What does creativity look like for you?
I have a free sense of play. I like to play with ideas and emotions and the physical platform of my existence. Self awareness and the mental politics of being a human now is the playing field. I’m interested in the mental and physical aspects of accommodating otherness. It’s why I make objects.
What is your daily routine?
I don’t get up early, but I usually work in the studio from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. I spend a good amount of time in the evenings drawing nonsensical doodles. If I have a specific engineering task, I might sit at a drafting table with rules and triangles and compasses, but I usually freehand in the studio on the fly. I work in wood mostly and when I’m making a lot of dust, I know I’m getting to the physical part, which is important to me, and satisfying.
Early in your career you worked in the toy industry; how has this experience has influenced your creative practice?
My ten years as a toy inventor has been an important influence on what I do now. It helped me focus on the idea of an end user and the mechanisms of how an object achieved the opportunity to be in a room with a pre-lingual child. In this job, (I was recruited), I partnered with another inventor to conceive new toy possibilities. I created the storyboards and models here in Colorado Springs and shipped them off to New York City for the dog and pony show. During that time we experienced a steady failure rate in concept placement and we never saw the wealth we dreamed of, but I spent two weeks in Manhattan every year – most of it in meetings with toy company executives and endless brainstorming sessions with my toy partner. But some of the most cherished hours for me was the time spent in great art museums and galleries. The New York art scene in the 80’s and 90’s was dynamic and fascinating.
What do you value most about your creative communities?
Human interaction and socialization is an essential activity. I make objects for viewing and often interaction. I will try to visit as many galleries as I can manage. I know hundreds of local artists and I’ve shown in a dozen local galleries over the years. As I participate and circulate—looking, thinking and talking—I feel part of an open and accepting community of searchers, discoverers and engaged humans also interested in seeing and showing work. Good returns!
How does art navigate the spaces that exist between people? How do you navigate the spaces that exist between institutions (like museums/galleries) and artists?
Those are good and multilayered questions. In a real sense all physical activity happens in negative space. We navigate between objects, mapping as we go. Most small objects move and present many variables so our navigation and data set is always in flux. I find it helpful to make predictions based on patterns. I am in the landscape and I learn what that means by moving through it. I learn what I might expect. “Nothing happens until something moves,” Einstein said. Movement provides some echolocation. One plus one equals two. You figure things out.
In my art practice, I see a playing field upon which commercial galleries, institutional galleries and museums sit and on which I want to play. Viewers, buyers, collectors, artists, curators, art directors, businesses, scholars, marketers, consumers, students and others occupy spaces on the playing field. I learn to play with them. I try to have fun in a humanistic and respectful way.
Another way I think about it is: I do something, then something else happens. If I respond to this new thing, something else might happen. I participate. It’s a two way street/multi-lane highway.
If you could collaborate with anyone in time and space, who would it be, and why?
I think I am collaborating with everyone and everything.
How is your studio practice responding to our current moment?
Here, at this moment, and because of art-making, I am very fortunate to have met some people who are very interested in seeing a show of new work. These angels have provided me a modest budget so I can produce for a year without financial worry. I am very fortunate and grateful this rare circumstance happened for me as I don’t sell enough to be frivolous.
So, I had been creating new work for several months when the pandemic arrived. I have a show scheduled for the end of August 2020 (postponed from the end of May 2020) at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo (Thank you, SDC!). The pandemic has impacted the schedule, yes, but also the head space of working. But, the extra time afforded is being put to good use.
Meantime, I am also responding to online interviews, virtual studio visits, and a couple of commission requests for future completion.
What do you hope that people take away from your work?
I know I play with any thing and any thought as a mental, physical and time consuming pursuit. In this, I can only respond to what I perceive and I amuse myself. I know most of us are overstimulated most of the time and I want to play with the furniture in our existential heads to keep them pliable, but I hope that I’ve learned to be kind to others and respectful of their intellects—the viewers, the touchers and the thinkers—no matter their circumstance. I hope I’ve tickled the mind of a passerby or at least exercised their lymph system.
You can view more of Sean’s work at seanomeallie.com.