The Tenth, Hello Mr and the Leslie Lohman Gallery have all exhibited the thoughtful talent of Sean O’Connor. The artist who’s work explores the constructed identity of man, reflects on admiring strong female centric sitcoms, the importance of therapy and weighs in on narcissism in our instagram age.
“I think there is art that is more politically driven, especially in these more polarizing times. But, art has always been a way for people to express, communicate, and relate to each other, whether a song, book, painting, or sculpture. I think what is difficult is keeping the vision for your work even as horrifying as news can be these days.”
YOUTH and ROLEMODELS
How was your youth, did you have a role model growing up?
I had a great childhood considering I was (not knowing until puberty) a gay boy growing up in the midwest. But my grandmother was from Nicaragua, so even though I was raised in Indianapolis, there was a definite sense of different cultures, even though I didn’t realize it then. And, thankfully my parents were really open for that time period and where we lived, having openly gay friends, which was not at all common in those days.
As for role models, I had thousands! Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, you couldn’t really escape pop culture if you tried. Besides being obsessed with cartoons and drawing, I spent every moment I could watching MTV and Nickelodeon. Madonna and Michael Jackson simply astounded me from an early age, along with Prince and anyone else on that channel. And looking back now, I was also always drawn to strong, female-centric sitcoms like Roseanne, Murphy Brown, and The Golden Girls, often imitating the humor on those show. Which probably shaped much of how I am now.
Do you remember your first crush?
Always fun to look back since again, when you’re growing up gay, you don’t understand that you have a crush on boys or men in movies – I was supposed to like girls! But I remember the first time I had feelings or attraction for men was Jason Patrick in ‘The Lost Boys,’ which is also semi-embarrassing to admit.
What’s your relationship with health and fitness?
When I was younger and through my twenties, I definitely didn’t consider my health, I was having much more fun staying out late with friends having a party every night. But that can definitely take its toll and I do not recover as easily as I used to.
Now that I’m in my thirties, staying fit, eating healthier, and trying to balance diet and partying less come into play much more.
However, I think my art speaks to this overall subject since most of the men I depict are muscular or athletic stereotypes. But I am also commenting on the human fixation for the ideal beauty. The “jock” or “bro” in my work almost become an archetype that I can then use to express what I need to.
What advice would you give to your adolescent self?
Start therapy a lot sooner. Also, save money!
Do you remember the first nude that you took?
Not specifically, but probably in college at some point when sexting became more of a pastime.
“…taking athletes, porn stars, rappers, any type of stereotyped man, and showing him in tears, surrounding him with florals, giving him a softer or more sensual pose. Challenging what emotions men are thought to convey.”
How do you think we can unlearn and redefine the constructed identity of a man and how does your art challenge the glorified perceptions of masculinity?
This question basically sums up most of what my work tries to explore and convey. We’ve always had an ideal vision of men and women for centuries and really, not alot of that vision has changed at all.
If you compare men who are idolized now, they aren’t too different from the statue of David.
But what I really do try to re-examine with my work is turning these established ideals on its head. So taking athletes, porn stars, rappers, any type of stereotyped man, and showing him in tears, surrounding him with florals, giving him a softer or more sensual pose. Challenging what emotions men are thought to convey.
Do you think there’s an aspect of your own vanity in your art?
Yes of course, art can be very reflective. And, everyone is vain in some aspect, if you look in the mirror, or you can be intellectually vain etc etc.
Of course, with social media though, narcissism has transcended what I think it might have even meant to be a narcissist 5-10 years ago.
I try with my art never to be judgemental. I am trying to make characters and figures that are recognizable and universal, but not the expected imagery you may associate with those characters.
And it also explores my own issues with vanity. I struggle a bit more with taking too many selfies (I rarely post pics of myself); policing myself to make sure I am not crossing the line into a narcissist. But arguably, making art in general is narcissistic and self-mastaboatory. So, in the end, who cares!
The narcissistic and socially awkward nature of selfies is examined in your work. How does someone draw the line between real life and their online identity when the distinction between the two is increasingly becoming more blurred?
This is also a focal point of my work too. When I have made paintings depicting selfies I try to convey the humor in it essentially. It’s not a judgement, it’s merely saying “Look, aren’t we all being silly?”
It is also universal in some ways, especially within gay male culture.
But with gay men, it is almost essential if you are looking to connect with someone romantically or sexually. But of course, our instagram accounts have morphed into the glamorized lives we lead.
With my own personal life, my work, and social media I try to keep very separate roads.
I decided a few years ago that I am a private person and I don’t need to pressure myself to share everything online even though it is so common now.
I have a facebook account, but never post, I use Instagram as my main art feed with very light personal photos here and there. I think there’s more of an intrigue when there’s some mystery you have to learn about someone.
What role do you think art plays in our current political climate?
There are varying degrees of art in politics and vice versa.
I think there is art that is more politically driven, especially in these more polarizing times.
But, art has always been a way for people to express, communicate, and relate to each other, whether a song, book, painting, or sculpture. I think what is difficult is keeping the vision for your work even as horrifying as news can be these days.
What’s your Go-To track for exercising?
I have 3 playlists I’ll play during a workout. Rap/hip hop with shout outs to Princess Nokia, Kamayah, Gucci Mane, Kendrick, and Tyler the Creator
But then sometimes pop playlists with Madonna, Janet Jackson and even harder music like Metallica and Queens of the Stone Age.
“Start therapy a lot sooner.”
What have you learnt about yourself this year?
I need to relax a lot more haha! I think artists many times have this frenzy to create, show, exhibit, accept this project and that project. And then I’m so busy with a million different things my studio is usually empty because my work is gone or sold. Which is not me complaining!
But, what I’m trying to say is I want to take more time to create on my own, not for a specific show or project but tap into something deeper inside myself. I tend to get distracted by too many details besides what is most important, which is the work.
Are there any young artists or creatives that excite you for the future?
Yes indeed! I am obsessed with Jamian Juliano-Villani, just simply the most amazing, strange, out-of-this-world paintings. She also has a great interview series on ‘Art 21,’ and it was incredibly inspiring.
And a handful of other artists I currently am enamoured with – Anthony Duchany, Lou Fratino and Daniel Orchard.
Goals for 2018?
I’m taking a step back, working on less projects so I can focus on making art purely for the sake of creation. How it should be haha!
Do you have any future projects that you’re currently working on?
Currently, I have a solo show planned in Provincetown, Massachusetts in the summer.
Other than that chilling and making art in my studio!
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
Yes, and I have before!