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12 Questions: Sean Carney

I paint places I love. The buildings, the street corners and

shorelines are just place markers for memories that I share with

special people in my life. I enjoy taking in my surroundings and

imagine painting them. These paintings are my connections to the

past and an unbreakable bond to my work.

I paint with Minwax wood stain and a Dremel, it is a process that

is mine and mine alone. My paintings look like traditional paintings

from a distance, but upon closer inspection you gain a realization

that they are not traditional at all. It is that moment of

contemplation that drives me to continue my growth and


1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

Growing up, I was a big horror/fantasy lover, so I read everything from Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Dean Koontz. I'm not sure how they influenced my life other than providing a chance to distract myself from life's stresses. Since deciding to try and succeed as an artist, I have enjoyed the following books:

1. "Making it in the Art World" by Brainard Carey

2. "Art Inc." by Lisa Congdon

3. "Factfulness" by Hans Rosling

2. What are you currently working on?

Currently, I am working on some paintings of Charleston, South Carolina. My wife, AnnMarie, and I just returned from a short vacation there, celebrating our 20th anniversary.

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

Much of my life has been directed by the failures of my father. He and my mother divorced when I was around 3 years old, and that was pretty much the last time I saw him. Growing up, I recognized how hard that was on my mother and her parents, who had to step in and help raise me. That made me want to be everything my father was not. My wife and I have been together for close to 30 years, married for 20, and we are best friends. We have two sons, and I am dedicated to being present and active in their lives. I wake up every morning truly thankful for the life I have. I suppose I have my father's failure to thank for that in a way. That would be my favorite failure.

4. What is your most unusual habit?

I sing while I paint, sometimes pretty loud. People often walk past my studio, and I'm sure they can hear me singing away. I would imagine that I am a far better painter than a singer.

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead, paint your portrait, who would it be and why?

This was a blessing because I was lucky enough to have this actually happen. I teach high school painting in New Jersey, and 23 years now, we were given a grant to have an artist-in-residence paint in my classroom. We were blessed to have the incredibly talented Mel Leipzig paint in my room once a week for five years. Mel is probably my biggest influence. Watching him paint and talking to him completely changed the way I handle paint and color. During his time with us as our artist-in-residence, he created two portraits of me, and one of them includes my two sons.

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

The most indispensable item in my studio is my floors. They are just gorgeous! My father-in-law is a master at Terrazzo flooring, and he put the most beautiful floors in for me.

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired, what do you do? How do you get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

I know this might be unpopular, but I am always inspired, and I always want to paint. The only time I am not painting is if I have other responsibilities to attend to, but I usually get 3 or 4 hours of painting in every day. It is therapy for me; it keeps me grounded.

8. Who/What influences your work?

First, I would have to say my mother. When I was very young, she pointed me towards the arts. In 4th grade, she had me taking classes on Saturdays in a local artist's studio. By my freshman year in high school, I was taking the PATH train into New York City to take classes on Saturdays at the School of Visual Arts and the Fashion Institute of Technology. This continued right up until I attended art school for college.

Second, experience is my inspiration. My paintings are a collection of moments and memories from time spent with my wife, family, and friends. They are a scrapbook of sorts. Life has not always been so good; I grew up in a tough place, but I choose to focus on where I am now. Every time I am working on a painting, I am forcing myself to relive one of these joyous moments. I believe that can be seen in my work. I am happy and grateful for all of these wonderful times that I now get to experience.

9. Do you collect anything?

I collect coffee mugs. It drives my older son crazy, especially when he has to put the dishes away. My wife and I both love our coffee.

10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

Start now! I wish I had begun this artist journey sooner. About 10 years ago, I decided to start trying to exhibit my work in my mid-30s. I really wish I went all in right after graduating college. I let doubt win back then, and I did not have the resolve to stick to a routine.

11. In the last five years, what new belief or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

I constantly say, "Life is Beautiful," and I believe it.

12. Share an inspiring image.

James May Gallery | 2201 N Farwell, Milwaukee, WI | 262-753-3130 Please continue to support us by visiting us in person at our new location: 2201 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee or check out our Artsy page. Feel free to contact us: 262-753-3130


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