Interview with Sean Mahan for “Translucent Vision”

We’re excited to be showing new work by Florida-based artist Sean Mahan in our project room for his solo exhibition Translucent Vision opening Saturday, June 1st. Mahan’s compositions are sweetly nostalgic portraits and illustrative renderings of children, incorporating vintage objects and motifs to explore an idea of cultural obsolescence through the fetishization of symbols and references drawn from bygone eras.

In anticipation of Translucent Vision, our interview with Sean Mahan discusses the inspiration behind this latest body of work, the role of artists in society, and who would direct the movie of his life.

SH: For those that are not familiar with you and your work, can you give us a brief look at your artistic background?

SM: Hello! Yes, I went to art school for illustration in the ‘90s.  After school, I started painting illustrative fine-art paintings, many of which became record covers for post-hardcore and other kinds of punk bands.  At that time I also worked as a commercial muralist for 15 years and that really helped me learn how to work with latex/acrylic paint.  I’ve continued to work full time in the studio making paintings ever since and I still love to make record cover art.

SH: What was the inspiration behind “Translucent Vision”? 

SM: The idea for the series began with the song “Translucent Vision,” that I wrote several years ago.  It considers the challenge of shaping the world around us while holding a disfigured view of it.  This new series of paintings are a continuation of that investigation, questioning the possibility of breaking through a universe of preconceptions that distance and dissociate us from more directly experiencing each other and the world around us.

SH: Is there a particular piece in this exhibition you feel really challenged you? If so, why and what makes you proud of this piece.

SM: My favorite painting of the show is “Light Bending In Between Us”.  It depicts a girl focusing a vintage projector.  The light extends out to partially illuminate a songbird that is passing by.  The challenge of the painting was capturing the level of detail that I wanted on the heavily textured fabric surface. I found a few new solutions and I am really happy with the result. 

SH: What excites you about your work / creative process?

SM: I was really excited to use a collection of vintage fabric pieces that I had been saving for this show.  All the fabrics are Swedish textiles from the 60’s that have this wonderful luminous quality.  My thought was to take a mass-produced textile and return it to an original object, gesturing at the idea of turning a popularly held preconception back to an original creative thought.  I was excited to try and embed the concept of the show into the ground of the paintings themselves.  

SH: What frustrates you about your work / the creative process?

SM: Painting with acrylics is quite time consuming for me and that is what is both frustrating and rewarding about it.  It takes a long time to build up layers to get it looking smooth, but that process is quite calming and focusing.  I think your state of mind is reflected in your painting and the opposite is also true — your painting affects your state of mind.

SH: If your body of work inspired an ice cream flavor, what would it be called and what are the ingredients?

SM: That’s funny.  There is a tropical fruit called “Dead Man’s Fingers” that I really love.  It’s an oddity because it produces three fruits from one flower and has the strangest texture — like cold dead fingers, but tastes super sweet and floral.  I’m not exactly sure how it relates to my body of work, but it would be a great flavor!

 SH: What do you think the role of artists is in society? How does other artwork inform how you move through life?

SM: I really like this question and its one I think about a lot.  I think artists capture our intersubjective feelings in a visual language and help to remind us how to find those feelings within ourselves.  I think that art can connect more directly to a feeling within us, possibly subverting our normal concept-laden perception.  

My favorite artists are ones who can interrupt my normal line of thinking and break through with something that I immediately connect with emotionally and afterward find ways to conceptualize.  

SH: What would a perfect day outside of the studio look like for you? 

SM: I love walking down to the beach, swimming and surfing, visiting museums and gardens, eating some tropical fruits, and watching movies at a vintage theater.

SH: A Netflix movie is being made about your life, who would be cast to play you and what kind of movie would it be? Try to describe it with similar movies.  

SM: As long as John Waters is directing it, he can cast whomever he likes.  

SH: If you could make the album art for any album, existing or yet to be released, what album or artists would it be for and why? 

SM: I would like to make a record cover for the band Nos Miran (on Elefant Records).  Marta and Sergio, are you reading this? Do you need some cover art?

SH: Favorite way to celebrate the completion of a project/body of work?’

SM: I like to go swimming in one of Florida’s natural springs.  I feel a real sense of connection to place at Florida springs, there is something so beautifully refreshing about it!

Join us June 1st from 6 to 9 pm for the opening reception ofTranslucent Vision.

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