Artist Interview: SEAN MAHAN


Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman

Hailing from northern Florida, we bring you Painter Sean Mahan. His painting style is simultaneously very classical and contemporary. His paintings look as if the children from a Balthus painting took a trip to a record shop, or went to a skillshare sewing class. Along with gorgeously soft-focused rendering, his line quality is as delicate as the subjects he paints. Sean is yet another amazing artist we were introduced to through the Cotton Candy Machine, keep reading to see what he had to say about his art.


SHANON WELTMAN: Who are your favorite artists that influence your art?

SEAN MAHAN: There are so many artists that I love, like Joey Ka-Yin Leung, Kwon Kyung-Yup, Naoshi, Kim Hee Kyung, Hsiao-Ron Cheng, Jenny Yang, Eltono, Momo, and many others. My grandmother was really into Chinese art and antiques and I remember loving this painting she had of Chinese women playing ping pong in flip flops. I think she influenced me at a really young age along with my father who paints realist figurative oil paintings. The biggest influence on the way I approach art, probably though, was Kathë Kollwitz. I grew up loving her prints and drawings and her depiction of working class suffering. I think her art sparked a sense of wonder in me about human nature and how its reflected in facial expression.


Girl and Bicycle


SW: Do you use model references for your paintings, or are the figures made up?

SM: I have a lot of references I use, but only for one aspect or another. Like one reference for hair, another for hands, etc. Some parts are imagined too. My parents have a collection of really old elementary science textbooks that have some great photographs of children that I have used a lot.

SW: Describe your process and how long it takes you to complete a piece from start to finish.

SM: I usually do a small sketch, then a full size drawing on newsprint to work out any problems. Then I transfer the drawing onto wood and do a graphite drawing to use as the underpainting. I paint watery acrylic over the drawing and then thicker acrylic in some places. It usually takes two weeks to make a medium sized painting.


Art in Public Places


SW: How long did the “Art in Public Places” Mural in Jacksonville, FL take you to complete?

SM: It took about a month to paint. I worked on it mostly alone with a little help from friends here and there. That was a really fun project to work on because I love painting huge and using boom lifts. It’s a cool feeling to work on a section of a big mural without a sense of how the whole thing looks. Then you back up to see how what you just did affects the big picture, make decisions about what you’d like to change and then go back against the wall to paint what you remembered should be done. I think the scale amplifies how you focus in and draws your attention away from the finished product and absorbs you in the process. That’s when I think you can feel less overwhelmed and just enjoy painting.


The Ghost in the Nest


SW: Can you please expand on your explanation of what the painting series on wood is about?

SM: I’m interested in making paintings that reveal a kind of sweetness that’s inherent in our natures despite our cultural environment of competition, hierarchy, patriarchy, etc. I think we are over-saturated with a loud, shallow, impulsive and commercial visual environment with an agenda to create uninformed, irrational consumers. I want to create something subtle, gentle, and beautiful in response.


Invisibile Threads 1


SW: What is it about sewing machines that you find expresses your vision, as opposed to other appliances used in consumer culture?

SM: Sewing machines represent two opposing things. On one hand, they express the idea of a creative project, the fun of making something yourself, start to finish. On the other hand sewing machines bring to mind the extreme division of labor in a factory and how that feels dehumanizing. There’s a line in Marx’s Capital that’s something to the effect of “while the Roman slave is bound by chains, the wage slave is bound to his master by invisible threads”. That’s where the name of the sewing machine series comes from. Also, my mom sewed a lot of my clothes when I was young and I have fond memories of going to the fabric store to choose different fabrics and patterns. So there are those two sides to it.


Between Two Waves: 2nd Wave


SW: How has living in Florida affected your art (imagery, process, speed, etc.)?

SM: I grew up swimming and surfing in the ocean, climbing trees to eat grapefruit and kumquats, and free diving in the spring caves.
The nature is really beautiful and inspiring here. There’s not much progressive art happening where I live at the beach, but nearby in Gainesville, FL is the home to No Idea Records, a punk label who I’ve done a lot of work with over the years doing record covers. These are some of my very favorite projects to work on because I love the combination of painting and music and it’s fun to have a soundtrack put to your art. The two inform each other and give depth to each other in a special way.

SW: Favorite Saturday morning cartoon from when you grew up?
SM: Rainbow Brite was the best. I still have the record.