Leaving A Legacy
The Sean Earley Retrospective

BOYD GALLERY — March 2001

Sean Earley - Woman Serving Meaninglessness


Story by J R Compton


Leaving A Legacy, the Sean Earley retrospective covers art from a ten-year period, including his Texana, Boredom, Italian and Somewhere Else series.

Earley was a successful Dallas commercial illustrator who died of AIDS in May of 1992. His fine art work had appeared in many Dallas galleries, as well as Texas Monthly, the Whitney Museum and New York's Alternative Museum.

This show is at Boyd Gallery, through March 31

Leaving A Legacy is a largely non-commercial retrospective in a commercial gallery that specializes in the fine arts work by sometimes commercial artists. And it's an amazing show. Paintings are hung salon-style all over the walls at, and a there's a lovely, large, free, catalog-like folder with many works in color on nice, heavy stock that accompanies the exhibition.

Right: Vacuum
Left: President of the United States


Most of the works here are not for sale, although a precious few are. Works from the variety of Earley's styles and series are well represented. My favorites are from his slick, glossy Early Years Series' paintings of bored, wide-eyed and wide-faced individuals staring emptily into space at us.


But his complete set of presidential portraits and Boredom series are also impressive.

I'm less pleased with his loose, informal, four-color process-like crosshatching, which looks okay in works like Vacuum — especially when reproduced small, like above left. But this element often takes over canvases, as it does in Lie Around Naked, also from the Boredom Series, 1985.

Curated by Debbie Bozeman, the show and the grand little catalog, are marvelous. And it may be the last chance anyone will get to see this many Sean Earley paintings in one place.


Before the show, I wrote:

Too many supposedly 'fine' artists still think illustrators, just because they make their art for hire, are somehow inferior.

The controversy has raged for as long as I can remember. Sure, much illustration is hackneyed. But then, so's most of every other kind of art. This conflict was constant when Sean Earley's work was blending over the lines in the mid 80s.

Like any other kind of chauvinism, it's a word game played by those who don't know any better or haven't thought it through. As someone at the Art Movie Night discussion recently noted, an awe-ful lot of the best known art in history was dictated — not just sponsored — by the Catholic Church.

I'm looking forward to spending some serious time with this upcoming show. I'm excited to see his work again in Dallas.

But I remember when my own art form, photography, was only very slowly easing over the line of respectibility by so-called serious thinking, so-called fine artists. The conclusion then was that it was a " Potential Art Form," meaning it was at least possible to use that medium to create fine art art.

Which still seems absurd. All art forms only sometime — indeed, rarely — result in Fine Art. Some craft is art. Some art is craft. Even some science is art, although what they tell us on TV is art almost always is not. It's just a word game. Sean knew it and overcame the perceived limitation. And I wish he could have lived to see this show. But, of course, that's only part of the legacy he left.


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