[ Sean Hennessey Press

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The Washington Sculptors Newsletter August 2010

Featured Member
by Rima Schulkind The two men who shaped the direction Sean Hennessey would ultimately pursue were his grandfather and King Tut. His granddad’s sheet metal work exposed him to the feel of honest tools and their application, the actuality of making real things. The Treasures of Tutenkamen in 1978 at the Metropolitan Museum in New York just blew him away - the materials, the craftsmanship, the beauty of the objects still exert their influence on him, literally and metaphorically. They impelled him to pursue the lessons and images of Greek and Roman mythology he then sought and devoured in Bullfinch and Hamilton. Later, he expanded his focus to include the rich iconography of the Mayans and Aztecs. He loves their rich story telling explanations of human experience, and perceived through that cultural expression that art is a way of processing life. Sean started making art in his early teens, enjoying the process and the results, but not yet truly committed to it. At 17, working at the local Starving Artists Cafe exposed him to a lot of artists who may have influenced his decision to make art his central environment. In addition to experiencing the work of others, he became intensely serious about his own art. He attended Berea College (the first interracial and coeducational college in the South as well as a work-study institution that charged no tuition). Thus at Berea he was exposed to an odd cultural mix of indigent American and wealthy foreign students. This strongly affected his awareness of the power of cultural impact and differences. His art major provided the important influences of Bill Morningstar, his sculpture professor and Walter Hyleck in ceramics. Drawing on the King Tut experience, Sean’s thesis project consisted of six huge dioramic boxes in which he used mythology as a metaphor to examine current issues. Needing a job after graduating from Berea, Sean went to work for Virginia’s Barter Theater and spent three years building set and painting scenery. With this background he was qualified to come to work at DC Shakespeare Theater’s prop shop. There, he ultimately painted everything that was made to use on stage, as well as all the casts required (e.g. dead bodies!). Despite long hours and hard work, this proved to be a dream job: in addition to health benefits and vacations, he had access to major equipment, and the facilities for creating large pieces. He also freelanced at Wooly Mammoth, Signature, the Kennedy Center and other area theaters. Artomatic, Washington’s annual art free-for-all, provided an important opportunity for Sean: participating in all but two of these events, in 2002 he met fellow exhibitor Tim Tate, cofounder and shining light of the Washington Glass School. He joined the faculty of the Glass School, teaching classes and using its facilities. Sean had begun to find his “day jobs” (which usually extended well into the night) taking up too much time and focus. There was not enough time or energy for making art. So he left theater work at the end of 2004 and started Scenic Artisans, a faux finishing business, which still accepts some commissions.

[ Sean Hennessey Press ]

His studio at the Washington Glass School is where he creates and casts the large glass panels which are his current focus. For Sean’s most recent major exhibit at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda he installed eight steel framed glass panels. Each is a single 42x13x3 pane of kiln-formed slumped glass that he troweled and painted with concrete and stains. Each contains raised elements consisting of positive glass castings of familiar objects: electric materials such as bulbs, cords, plugs and sockets; doors, key locks, hand tools, human hands. While the cemented areas are rough and opaque, many of the molded components are smooth, clear glass. Other exhibits include a solo exhibit at Touchet Gallery in Baltimore and a two person show at Blackrock Center for the Arts in Germantown MD, both in 2007. Sean has been in many juried competitions, and served for several years on the WSG Board, arranging special programs. Of his choice of materials, Sean says I liken the presence of glass in my art to the ethereal aspect of our lives, our spirit,...hopes and dreams. I equate the concrete with the realities of earth...and the shell we use to protect ourselves.... covered and encrusted. Yet the glass, our humanity, and the narratives of our lives still shines through. These narratives are both personal and universal; the mythologies individual and cultural, ancient and contemporary. His work is full of secrets and clues referencing his own life. And unsurprisingly, whimsy plays its own role. Unlike many artists, Sean enjoys the challenge of working on commission. Herelishes engaging with the client’s aesthetic perception, figuring out how to fulfill it, how to translate what is wanted into an artistic expression. Rather than feeling hemmed in or controlled by the confines of a commission’s specifics, he perceives this as another opportunity to understand, enhance, and interact with someone else. This openness and curiosity seem qualities integral to his nature. Another atypical quality is Sean’s modesty in exhibiting his work, both in the venues and in the manner. I found that after our interview, I was so caught up in his narrative that I had totally neglected to ask about where and when he had exhibited! He never brought it up, except for the then current NIH show. Upon visiting that exhibit, because the panels were hung directly on opaque walls, I wasn’t certain that the clear glass components were translucent or if the panels were constructed with opaque backing, so I called Sean to inquire. His response was an offhanded “oh yes, there was no backing, they could be backlit or hung so the light shines through, but they look fine this way”. Just no angst over what others might bemoan as improper fidelity to the work. No major changes loom in Sean’s plans for the future. Having shown and collaborated with his artist wife, Rania Hassan, he would like to do more such projects. But mainly he would like to keep on doing what he’s doing - just more intense and challenging with regard to size and complexity. Every once in a while, I have the pleasure of encountering someone who is completely invested in and joyous about the life he has chosen. Sean Hennessey fits that description beautifully.

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