MCLA Gallery 51 : Sean Riley: Meet Me in the Middle of the Air
Riley's recent work derives from a project he embarked on in response to the 2008 loss of his father, for which he created a quilt from his father's clothes. This cathartic process has informed a body of work including paintings and sculptures that make reference to quilt patterns and piecing techniques. Riley's ultimate goal with the project eventually is to use his father's entire wardrobe to create an extensive body of work. Meanwhile, the project entitled "Everyday Will Be Sunday" has evolved to take on additional forms and references, including traditional shield designs from Africa and Oceania.
According to the artist, two works in the exhibition keenly illustrate the memorial nature of the body of work. "Eulogy" (2011) is a "two-sided quilt that has the words from a gospel hymn hand embroidered onto a symmetrical and structural pattern meant to evoke an altar piece of carved stone. The work is also meant to act as a shroud or covering for a death bed with the orientation of the text positioned appropriately for the respective readers and where they would be positioned in such a circumstance."
In "No More," (2011) Riley has deconstructed his father's work clothes and used the denim segments to create a calendar of working days that are to be no longer experienced. "Each day of the week, except for Sunday, the day of rest, has been hand-embroidered onto a denim leg segment. 'No More' represents the solace that can be taken from knowing that in death one is relieved from the toils of daily existence."
Riley has been active in the arts in North Adams since his arrival in 1999, when he led a group of teens in collaboration with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition to create the "Welcome to North Adams" mural that hung on the Eclipse Mill for several years. He also participated in many exhibitions in North Adams over the years, most notably a two-person exhibition with the Val London Kane at the Tunnel City Gallery in Heritage State Park in 2001, a two-person exhibition with artist Ven Voisey at MCLA Gallery 51 in 2005, and "Lumens," a collaborative site-specific installation in Adams and North Adams with Voisey and artist Matthew Bellanger in 2008.
Riley also worked at several arts institutions in the area, including Williams College Museum of Art as a preparator, Northern Berkshire Creative Arts as the interim executive director and a teacher of drawing, and as the gallery manager for MCLA Gallery 51.
Riley received his BFA in painting in 1999 from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, Mass., and an MFA in painting in 2004 from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
The fifth annual season of DownStreet Art celebrates the arts on the last Thursday of every month in downtown North Adams. There will be gallery exhibition openings, street musicians, a mural unveiling, and specials at local businesses. The event is free and open to the public. All of the participating artists will be in attendance.
The initiative was designed to revitalize downtown North Adams by identifying the City as a cultural haven. The program serves not only to increase MCLA's visibility, but to showcase what other local arts organizations have to offer. For more information about DownStreet Art and the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, go to www.downstreetart.org and www.mcla.edu/bcrc .
For more information about Riley's artwork, visit his Web site:www.polaresolare.net . "Meet Me in the Middle of the Air" runs through Aug. 26. MCLA Gallery 51 is at 51 Main St. in North Adams and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.