Thursday December 07, 2017
Bright, colorful sculptures with quirky protuberances of unexpected materials are a highlight of Ross Sheehan’s work currently on display at the Flynndog Gallery on Pine Street in Burlington. These pieces, which combine elements of expressionism and pop art, are impossible to walk by and, instead, arrest the viewer’s attention and demand exploration. The artist Paul Gauguin said, “Art is either revolution or plagiarism,” and Sheehan’s work is clearly in the former category; an upheaval of expectation featuring riotous color and format. Sheehan describes his current collection of sculpture as “painted constructions comprised of smashed pottery, salvaged studio materials, furniture, tools, welded steel parts, and other recognizable objects from daily life.” He explains, “Each piece of collected material reminds me of my past. Assembled, the pieces start to tell their own story.”
The artist’s story has many locales. Born and raised in Middlebury, Sheehan earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Syracuse University. From there, he began his quasi-nomadic artist journey, working in 13 studios “spread across five different states, both indoor and outdoor, ranging from urban to coastal to desert.” After college, Sheehan relocated to New York City where he describes his work shifted from “an illustrative or narrative style to a more experimental, abstract platform.” Since then, he has also worked and exhibited in New Jersey, Nevada, California, and abroad in Florence, Italy.
Sheehan and his wife, Cat Cutillo, an award winning photojournalist, moved back to Vermont, to Vergennes, in 2012. Sheehan describes it as the “perfect in-between city,” since at the time he was working in Middlebury and his wife in Burlington. He recalls walking by a decrepit foreclosed property for sale on the edge of Vergennes’ downtown and thinking, “You know, that would make great little art space someday.” The two took a chance and about a year to renovate the space, with the help of Sheehan’s father, and opened a gallery which exhibited their own work along with work by artists from around the country.
The Vergennes art space was open for approximately two years, when the couple was presented with the opportunity to move to California. There, Sheehan was the museum preparator, installing and handling art for exhibitions, at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Jose Museum of Art, while focusing on his own creative works nights and weekends. Eventually the rising costs of living in the Bay Area caused the family to leave the Golden State and move across county to the Green Mountains. “We decided to move to South Burlington mainly because of the schools, its proximity to Burlington, the nearby university and colleges, and easy access to the airport. Not to mention, we were excited about the potential of a new City Center being built.”
Sheehan’s former Vergennes showroom became his primary studio. He says, “The benefit of working in a space that was originally set up for a gallery is that the lighting is truly amazing. The building has nice energy, inside and out.” Sheehan sees his studio, itself, as being a work of art. “I have gone so far to use material from its renovation in sculptures, furniture, and collages.” With street-level storefront windows, the Vergennes space also invites the public to see the artist at work. “Viewers can peek in any time to see what projects I’m currently involved in.” When not there, Sheehan creates in the more private space of this South Burlington garage studio.
“I don’t believe being raised in Vermont has visually impacted my work as I’ve moved around quite a lot over the years. I do, however, believe that working in Vermont provides space to breathe, think, and expand,” says Sheehan, adding, “It’s quiet and easy to work in solitude if desired.”
Taking advantage of the Advanced Welding Institute in South Burlington, the artist then became certified in structural welding. “It opened opportunities to create more practical industrial design items such as furniture, railings, hardware and structural elements for buildings.” In addition, in regard to his sculptures, Sheehan notes, “I believe that the aesthetics should always come first in my work. Having said that, I am constantly thinking about my art’s practical design, longevity and durability.” He recalls, “I was building sculptures in indoor/outdoor studios in Long Island City, New York and San Francisco, California. Some of my work started to rot and mold, so I started working in sheet copper and steel. I knew how to solder copper, but didn’t know how to bind steel together. At the same time, I was creating non-functional abstract steel sculptures out of off-cuts, found objects, and antiques. Welding has brought me tremendous satisfaction, and has allowed me to branch off in many new directions.” Sheehan’s steel sculptures, such as the one titled “Communication Station,” are featured at the Flynndog exhibit.
The artist continues to express his unique creativity in many forms, from printmaking to painting, sculpting to furniture. Sheehan remarks, “I am constantly bouncing back and forth between mediums and functionality. It’s satisfying to produce quick monotype prints to gain instant gratification, while working on larger, more ambitious projects.”
While managing the business side of an artist’s career can be a fulltime job itself, Sheehan is versatile and inventive in regard to the applications for his creativity. In addition to taking on freelance art handling and installation jobs, he also has taken commissions to design furniture like dining room tables. Furthering his artistic purview, Sheehan is currently working on creating a contemporary art themed Airbnb, with plans to have it up and running later this winter. His next exhibit is a copper and mixed media sculpture and works on paper show at the Vermont Technical College Hartness Library in January 2018.
Meanwhile, his Flynndog exhibit, which also features abstract paintings by artist Rueben Vidrio, runs through the end of December. Sheehan says, “The sculptures at Flynndog are built from selected materials and recognizable objects that physically possess a distressed and decayed feeling. But, philosophically, every piece of material has an alternative story. After being incorporated back into my sculptures, the material has a rebirth, a new life.” And that new life on display at Flynndog is a kaleidoscope of expression drawing the eye in closer and encouraging a response, a reaction, or a connection. Sheehan says, “Whether it be oil pen scribbles, drips of Day-Glo enamel, or heavy encrusted layers of oil, it’s the love of paint that unifies my work.”
When asked what else Sheehan had to share, the intrepid artist, added, “I would urge people to seek out an artist in your community whose work you respect and admire. Make an investment in that artist’s work and share it with your friends and family. Experiment, open new doors, and do the opposite of what everyone is doing.”
SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper