Sean Riley's "Everything is OK"
MCLA Gallery 51 kicked off the new DownStreet Art season on Thursday, June 24, with Sean Riley's "Everything is OK," a collection of works inspired by geometric shapes and patterns. The show features paintings, works on paper, collage, sculpture and the artist's latest medium of choice - quilts.
"That comes out of my study of American quilting traditions. I was also looking at mosaic patterns in floors and architecture in Rome. They're two-dimensional images, but they're made with three-dimensional objects. When you're working with any material, you follow law of physics. That was something I wanted to try to emulate in my own paintings - looking at how the mosaic patterns were made and seeing if I could replicate that and seeing if it would do something different for me," Riley said (pictured left, setting up the show). "It's completely invaded my work."
The show marks Riley's first solo exhibition. Its title, "Everything is OK," was meant to be an intriguing statement.
"It raises questions. But I think primarily it's a welcome sign to the gallery. Visitors can see it, they can read it and 'Everything is OK.' Maybe for a moment, the exhibition can lower shared anxieties for a moment and they can enjoy the visual experience from looking at the work," he explained.
In 2008, quilting became therapeutic for Riley. After losing his father to cancer and going through the clothes that were left behind, Riley decided to create a quilt. With no previous experience, he pieced together the first three of what will be a series of quilts made from his father's clothing.
The work in the show comes from a difficult two years in Riley's life.
"To make the work, I often had to remind myself that, even if it was a lot, it actually was okay. It helped to block out the world around me," he said. In addition to his father's death, "I moved to New York and I couldn't find a job and I had financial struggles and uncertainties about the future. So this statement was a way for me to focus on what is most important to me, which is my artwork. I knew that, through doing that, it was the only way for things to be okay."
After living in Rome and New York City, Riley feels he is most at home in North Adams.
"I have a house here and I love summer in the Berkshires. The plan was to come back and see what happens. It's really good to be back. Even from Rome, I was missing North Adams," Riley said.
The former manager of MCLA Gallery 51, Riley is thrilled that his first solo exhibition is in the space.
"It's interesting to be on the other side. I'm really excited about it. I feel really good to be doing my first solo exhibition in Gallery 51. It feels so much like home. I'm really comfortable in the space. It feels great," Riley said.
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.
"Everything is OK" runs through July 25. MCLA Gallery 51 is at 51 Main St. in North Adams and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information about Riley's artwork, go to his Web site at www.polaresolare.net .