Longtime Colorado Springs sculptor and installationist Sean O’Meallie spent ten years in the ’80s and ’90s pitching gizmos and pull toys as a toy inventor, commuting to toy fairs in Manhattan with storyboards in hand. He and his New York-based business partner “never scored it big,” he says, but he did take something valuable away from the experience.
“Me, I have no hunger for money,” O’Meallie admits. “While I was in New York, I would sneak away to the galleries and museums to see art.” A largely self-taught woodworker, he then “started to explore and play with ideas, and came up with a few dangerous toys.” For instance, the “Shark Fin Pull Toy.” The very idea of a child “pulling his nemesis and walking on water,” he notes, “is not a good message.” Yet it bends the mind and provokes curiosity, just as any good toy should. Another piece? “45 Choking Hazards,” consisting of a box of tiny, colorful cubes. Please do not eat the sculpture.
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In the present, he’s still carving visual jokes with darkly serious backstories, and that’s something you’ll need to know about O’Meallie if you plan to visit his new solo show, O’Meallie, opening August 4 at the Modbo, a hip Colorado Springs contemporary-art gallery. It’s a perfect capsulation of the artist’s brightly lacquered, sensuously smooth and touchable carved signature works that are beautiful and often whimsical on the outside and scary under the surface.
Sculpture, for O’Meallie, is no different from making toys: “As I flesh out a concept, I’m aware of how objects can evoke involuntary visual cues.” Not difficult for a guy who says, "I first entertained myself at five years old, and I've been an existentialist ever since."
For one thing, there will be guns, a subject matter O’Meallie’s been returning to frequently over the years. The wall installation “Study in Black,” a pleasing rectangular composition of 33 carved guns with exaggerated curves and elongated triggers, addresses what he calls the sensual psychology of the gun. “The gun is human intention, an extension of intent,” O’Meallie explains. While he doesn’t necessarily share that fascination with guns and their powerful aura, he understands how they visually tweak the senses, with their smooth barrels and inviting hardware asking to be squeezed. Grasp one of his harmless mock firearms and you will still feel its crazy, killing energy — and, yes, he does encourage touching the artwork (within reason).
Other works in the show play further on creative thinking. One, called “Vase of Colorful Sticks,” is just that: a glass cylinder filled with brightly painted wooden rods, meant to be wielded, he notes, like a child might treat a yardstick, as “a toy to bug your sister with, a sword,” says O’Meallie. And “The Sun,” a yellow and red globe spiked with lime-green, tool-like protuberances, is an experiment in feeling the shapes in the wood in a kind of “call and response, exploring the constructs of line and curve,” he adds. The result is a subtly loaded semiotic object to contemplate.
The biggest joke you’ll encounter in O’Meallie, though, is a small series of works including two installations of color-splashed panels and one large framed piece, all depicting assholes – and you didn’t read wrong. You must by now be beginning to get O’Meallie’s messages, and realize that there’s a wicked streak of political satire and despair running through the three-piece suite. “The election prompted them,” is all O’Meallie divulges about the work, but we did the math: People are assholes. When assholes gain power beyond their abilities, things get bad. That considered, the single, framed asshole image titled "Grand Poobah" needs no explanation, with its fake golden moldings reminiscent of self-important posturing and bad architecture.
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Of the installation “21 Ani on a Wall,” he says, gesturing toward the arrangement of deadpan plaques on the wall: “Haven’t we all had it up to here with our race — in fact, with our whole species?" More formally, O’Meallie writes this in his statement: “These sculptures follow formal considerations of art conception and practice. The focus on the anus results from a broader and timely consideration of creature impact within the ecological processes of our living planet. I’m not above it. I’m part of it.” Aren't we all?
Tease your brain and draw your own conclusions: O’Meallie opens with a reception from 5 p.m. to midnight on Friday, August 4, and runs through August 25 at the Modbo, 17C East Bijou Street in downtown Colorado Springs. O’Meallie will give an artist talk at 5:30 p.m. on closing night, Friday, August 25. Learn more on the Facebook event page.