Shay Culligan is an Irish born Boston based artist known for his screen printed serigraphs depicting the post modern urban environment. In such works, Massachusetts College of Art graduate Shay has claimed to neither condemn nor condone his subject matter, instead seeking “personal redemption via the debris and indifference of neglect and ruin.” But his impartiality has been lanced in this US and Russian presidential election year with Boston’s NKG hosting Culligan’s “No Inherent Wisdom.” The title comes from a quote by Joe Strummer debunking the myth of political sages, proclaiming that ultimately government is about control.
Shay’s radical views extend beyond the buffoonery of political power, as he is also a vocal critic of the art establishment, where he says “mediocrity is king, as hype, spin, and the shameless pursuit of wealth” trumps the development of talented artists. “I’ve shown my hand, I cannot remain silent about the indefensible.” Shay is certain that his recent campaign against the Independent Curators International regarding “a personal matter” has no doubt enhanced his blacklisted status, restricting future exhibiting opportunities. He also rails against artists who put their signatures on works created by other hands, Shay works alone so there can be no ambiguity regarding the authenticity of his work.
Shay has a background as a representational painter in oils, but for his serigraphs he uses his own photos. Some of the images for “No Inherent Wisdom” are from Shay’s work as a photojournalist, but most were shot from TV screens. He utilizes a multi-color separation technique with color photos, which he learned from offset printing, unlike previous established screen print artists like Warhol and Rauschenburg who reproduced black & white photos in color. More used to working on canvas, this exhibit features works on card stock, which he describes as a once-off.
“No Inherent Wisdom” mocks the right-wing establishment for a lost decade riddled with lies, corruption, war and incompetence—both in America and in his wife’s homeland of Russia. He takes no prisoners where the Bush regime is concerned, as those who shamelessly pitched the Iraq invasion are individually depicted in unflattering portraits, for guilt-ridden posterity. Those deemed responsible for the economic crash due to the sub-prime mortgage crisis are also targeted. Unworried about being prosecuted for slander, Shay says, “Let them sue me, I could use the publicity more than they could”—not that he is a fan of corporate media that would generate such publicity. Culligan also finds room for the new Republicans, whose blatant obstruction of Obama Shay believes to be tantamount to treason. Lastly, he features images pertaining to the pro-democracy movement in Russia, where the dictator Putin is flanked by dissidents Shay alleges were murdered on Kremlin orders, alongside his Pussy Riot group portrait.
Answering to claims about his show being “a hatchet-job on the GOP,” Shay responds that “the Democrats, unlike the Republicans, are not known for their right-wing demagoguery, but in the blood sport of politics they are perhaps the lesser of two evils.“ Shay has nothing but gratitude for the two ladies who own the NKG—Natacha Sochat and Kathy Halamka—for giving him this opportunity, knowing how unlikely this is to be a selling show. How many people would enjoy looking up at an unflattering triptych of Newt Gingrich?
Shay is perhaps playing the controversy card here, but he now longs to set aside politics and return to interpreting his urban scenes. “I’ve been mentally and emotionally drained by daily producing artwork of individuals I loathe, it’s time to recreate city streets again, and I’m planning some portraits of my wife Marina.”
In recent years Shay has exhibited his serigraphs in Ireland, Canada, the Netherlands, London, Seattle, Buffalo, Los Angeles and Boston, still claiming that real opportunities are scarce for outsiders like himself. The NKG will be changing hands soon, so he will be without gallery representation again in the American Northeast, though he now has New York City in his sights. Shay claims that the 2 biggest obstacles he has faced were his successful battle with cancer, and the stultifying creative block that followed his lengthy rehabilitation. Now fully recovered from both, he is prolific in his output, doggedly showing no signs of slowing down, but the uncertainty of future gallery representation is cause for concern for an original artist vehemently belligerent towards the establishment, whether the corporate news media, art world elite, or governmental halls of power.
The exhibition runs 7 – 22 September 2012 At NKG 450 Harrison Ave, Suite 61, Boston, MA 02118