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Seamus Conley 'Flash/Dissolve'
at Andrea Schwartz Gallery, San Francisco, CA
Review by Cherie Louise Turner

Conley's recent show was captivating for its fine detail, otherworldly imagination and intense imagery.

Seamus Conley, "Default," 2009, oil on canvas, 66" x 66"
Photo: Steve Dolan, Courtesy of Andrea Schwartz Gallery

Seamus Conley’s recent show of hyper-real surrealist works—six oil-on-canvas paintings and six small drawings on paper, studies for the larger works—were captivating for their fine detail, otherworldly imagination, and intense imagery. Seen together, however, the works mark a transitional period for this young, quickly emerging, self-taught artist. Blips, which shows two figures dancing as well as their translucent past or future movements, and Bastard, featuring an upside-down car resting on solid ground and a dark, star-filled sky, take off in new directions; the remainder, the strongest of the works, show an evolution of previously presented ideas. Here, Conley further focuses on a lone figure, who decisively takes center stage. Lines of perspective emanating from a distant vanishing point propel the figure forward, toward the viewer. At times, humor plays a role, throwing the viewer off kilter slightly, adding a welcome twist. Conley’s palette remains limited: the works primarily feature a high contrast of bright white against dark blues and grays, with splashes of yellow or red.

The large Default (66" x 66"), an arresting image and obvious focal point of the show, pictures a cowboy figure in all white, with silver buckle, carrying a white lasso and masked with a red cloth. He walks in water through what appears to be a tunnel (the subway?) as doves, in various states of translucence, hover nearby. Heroic, hopeful, disastrous, the narrative wanders from absurd to grand; the imagery, verging on melodramatic, remains just short of it. Calgon features a woman in a white jumpsuit sitting in crossed-legged meditation, eyes closed, upon a simple desk wearing yellow dishwashing gloves and a tiara, blowing a large pink bubblegum bubble. Behind her, a range of snowcapped mountains; around her, rays of light. Exceptional in beauty and rendering, the  work lacks depth beyond its initial rapturous impact.

Conley knows how to wield a paintbrush and possesses a compelling imagination. The positive attention his work has received is well founded—having had his first show in 2003, he was a 2006/2007 SECA Award Nominee and 2007 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant winner. Moving toward greater refinement, these works do beg one to eagerly anticipate: with further resolution, what satisfyingly enigmatic places could Conley’s images take us to?

This article was written for and published in art ltd. magazine art ltd logo sml

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