Memorial Art


Works created in response to the loss of his father inspired local artist Sean Riley for "Meet Me in the Middle of the Air," a solo exhibition to open this Thursday, June 26, in MCLA Gallery 51. 

The show, which features paintings, drawings, sculptures and works made from fabric, will open that evening in a free reception, from 6 to 8 p.m., as part of the DownStreet Art Thursday celebration.

Two works in the exhibition in particular illustrate the memorial nature of the body of Riley's work.

"Eulogy" (pictured below) 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 also is meant to act as a shroud or covering for a death bed.

To create "No More," Riley deconstructed his father's work clothes and used the denim pieces to create a calendar of working days.  He hand-embroidered each day of the week, except for Sunday, the day of rest, onto a denim leg segment.

"Working with fabric has been very inspiring," Riley said. "I've had to learn a whole new craft. In doing so, that has influenced my painting work, my sculpture work, and many other things."

In creating the new works, Riley found that his quilting has influenced his painting.

"Instead of embroidery floss, I'm using a mark of a brush stroke to replicate that type of embroidery stitch," he explained. "The quilts themselves, conceptually, have been adding dimension to the paintings. I've been thinking of the quilts as a protective object, where they cover the body. I started looking at other objects like that, and I stumbled onto shields and armor. Shields are also adorned with patterns, much like a quilt is."

A number of Riley's paintings hint at being shields. "I think of them as studies for future fabric works. Perhaps, like shields, this is another way for my father to provide protection for me."

Because his work is so visual, Riley said viewers can enjoy it without knowing the story and concepts behind the art. "I use a lot of patterns, bright colors, and I think you can just enjoy the works on a purely aesthetic basis. That said, if one would like to know more, or can infer more from looking at the pieces, I think they will find deeper meaning there.

"And, if they've had the experience of losing a parent or a loved one, I think they might understand more where these works are coming from."

"Meet Me in the Middle of the Air" is part of a larger body of work that Riley has been working on since 2010.  He will bring together the works exhibited at MCLA Gallery 51 both then and now, at the Art Center of the Capital Region in Troy, N.Y., this October.

"My intention is to use all of the fabric I have from my father's clothing and just keep going," said Riley. "Who knows where it will lead, but the project continues."

For more information about Riley's artwork, go to his Web site: .  "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.