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Sean Healy
Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Recommendation by Richard Speer

Sean Healy, "Sugar Pill," 2018, gel caps, resin and sugar, 40 x 40 x 2"

Continuing through July 13, 2019

The title of Sean Healy’s courageous conceptual exhibition, “Beautiful Downer,” isn’t a pun on Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer.” It’s the artist’s shorthand for the melancholy beauty of Pacific Northwest art. There is plenty of beauty and sadness in this exhibition, which features mixed-media works (all 2017-2019) that straddle an important event in his life:  giving up drinking. Some works in the show — for example, the “Drunken Drawing” series, which portrays his father and mother using beer and wine as media — were done before he went sober. Others were made afterwards, such as “Sugar Pill,” a virtuosic wall sculpture made of resin and gel-caps, some of which are filled with sugar.  

“Sugar Pill” refers to the placebo effect: What substance, even if only a state of mind, can an ex-drinker possibly ingest to replace the sensation of a booze buzz? The self-deceptions and lies to others that alcoholics perpetrate are the subject of “Polygraph,” an impressive minimalist drawing installed next to the tool that made it, a contraption comprised of no less than 3,500 pencils. Using such unconventional media, as well as his trademark cigarette filters and wooden animal cut-outs, Healy confronts his demons — and many of ours — with the possibility of a better life.

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