On August 29th Boston-based Irish visual artist Shay Culligan stages his solo exhibition “TEN” as the inaugural opening of the O’Farrell Gallery in Port Chester, NY. “TEN” is a decade-long retrospective in the serigraphy medium, where Culligan has screen printed his own photos and designs onto canvas. Whereas in the past notable artists have screen printed black & white photos in color, Shay has taken serigraphy to another level by reproducing color photos using color channel separation techniques he learned from offset printing.
The O’Farrell Gallery was opened with a view to showcasing the work of contemporary Irish (plus European and American) visual artists, a cultural medium which is now projecting a positive response to Ireland’s recent catastrophic economic woes. The curator Sharon O’Farrell believes it is time to introduce New York and Connecticut to the modern face of Irish visual art: independent, confident, resilient, globally aware, socially conscious, innovative, provocative, and dismissive of traditional stereotypes. Both Sharon and Shay hail from Navan in County Meath, and have known each other since childhood. When last year Shay held a solo exhibition in Boston, he had no hint that within 12 months he would be staging another solo show so near to New York City, curated by his old friend and neighbor from Navan. “It’s all happened so fast. I only hope that I can put on an exhibition worthy of the rapid progress that Sharon has made in New York,” Culligan says.
In person unmistakably Irish, Shay knows that his art reveals little of his national origins, instead referring almost entirely to America, his home for the last 21 years. Though he is a classically-trained illustrator/painter in oils, Shay no longer paints, devoting all of his energy to the serigraphy medium. Compositionally strong, his work proves his skill as a photographer, while his subject matter is made up almost entirely of the everyday life in working-class urban America. “Upon graduating from Massachusetts College of Art, I was determined to pursue an agenda where craft would be a primary concern. What you see is what you get.” Shay is also determined to avoid using assistants to produce his art. “If it’s got my signature on it then I was the sole contributor to the piece. My art’s authenticity will never be in doubt.” He also stretches and frames his own canvases, maintaining full control over how his art is presented.
Shay’s glamorous Russian wife Marina is a prominent muse, featuring frequently in his art. Her style and elegance do not disqualify her from Shay’s proletarian subject matter. A recurring theme within his work is that beauty can be revealed amid the debris and indifference of the everyday. The artist says that “nowadays glamor can often be found in ordinary public places.” In recent years Shay’s art has been exhibited in The Hague, London, Ireland, Los Angeles, Seattle, Buffalo, Ontario, and, of course, Boston, but the major Big Apple breakthrough he seeks could be just around the corner. His solo exhibition at the O’Farrell Gallery may be a first step towards winning new patrons in the New York/Connecticut region.
Far from discounting his Irish heritage Shay claims “there is nothing more Irish than the Irish artist living in exile! Ireland’s most renowned figures were creative individuals forced to seek their fortunes by plying their trades in foreign lands.” In the creative sphere Shay believes that Irish writers are taken more seriously in America than Irish visual artists. He recounts taking an English literature class in college and upon learning that Shay was Irish the professor paused to proclaim “how wonderful!” Shay never heard that from any of his painting teachers. “An Irish writer of even modest reputation showing up in either Boston or New York for a book launch is more likely to occupy columns in the broadsheets, by way of review, but rarely does this happen for an Irish visual artist.” In the future he hopes to represent Ireland at the Venice Biennale because prominent art fairs are shaping the direction of the art world, and “perhaps I’ll represent the USA in Venice if not Ireland”, he quips.
TEN: A Solo Art Exhibition by Shay Culligan Launches The O’Farrell Gallery 168B Irving Avenue, Suite 301C, Port Chester, NY 10573 29th August 2013