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Sean Healy: “Life in Black and White” at Elizabeth Leach Gallery
by Richard Speer
Oct 2008


In his clean, polished, and ultimately optimistic show, “Life in Black and White,” Sean Healy evolves his previous body of work, which critiqued the social structures we learned in high school, into the adult world, with its corporate strictures and imperative toward competitive consumerism. Healy is a master of diverse media but presents himself here primarily as a sculptor. A favorite motif is the animal as guardian angel. With a water jet he cuts graphic shapes into aluminum: big cats and birds of prey, which recall the stuffed animals and cartoon heroes of childhood and function in adulthood as talismans against the insecurities that dog us. Invincible Air portrays two eagles in flight, one backlit with neon, both covered in glossy white enamel. In Security Blankets, a duo of tigers dives out of the artist’s childhood quilt, which he has split in half and proffered for the sake of art and profit. Catholic Guilt riffs similarly on predatory felines but uses antique doilies instead of quilts. Faux-fierce in their whimsical juxtaposition of wild animal and fussy lace, the works have a winning insouciance. Similarly, the wildly colorful concentric cast-resin bricks that make up Circle the Airstreams ostensibly critique the vapidity of our TV- and Internet-driven culture, but nevertheless come across as unadulterated eye candy, lending the piece a potent and intended hypocrisy.

It is only when his concerns (and titles) are more literal—as in Bored Meeting, a photograph of four drone-like business executives—that Healy’s work becomes prosaic and preachy. The same is true of Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, a picket fence comprised of stacked credit cards in an all-too-obvious warning against “keeping up with the Joneses.” These are rare missteps in a show otherwise spot-on in its portrait of Generation X at the moment when unnaturally prolonged adolescence curdles inexorably into early middle age. Healy handles this tragicomedy with earnestness, an immaculate respect for materials, and an enduring obsession with the seductiveness of early life, even as Big Wheels and keg parties give way to minivans and PSA tests. Growing older is a messy province of sprawls and sags, but in the artist’s worldview, containment and whimsy counterbalance these indignities and offer hope of a youthfulness that outlasts youth.

“Invincible Air,” 2008, Sean Healy, Water jet cut aluminum, neon, and enamel, dimensions variable
Photo: courtesy of the artist and the Elizabeth Leach Gallery

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