Sean Duffy

Portrait | About | C.O.L.A. Project | Past Projects

Like some kind of benign viral agent or giant mutant messenger RNA, Sean Duffy has spent the last decade and a half shredding and recombining the symbolic units of his life story and the social theaters in which its been played out, working in media as traditional as oil painting and sculpture, as avant-garde as audio art and imbibitional aesthetics, and as contested as furniture and appliance construction and fun-fur quilting—to explore, articulate, and question the ways in which we humans relate to the objects that give our lives meaning.

Among the object-cluttered social arenas Duffy has annexed in the service of his art are those of the home mechanic/custom racing-car hobbyist, the record collector, the nine-to-five office crowd, the showcase world of high-modernist furniture designers and their clientele, and the milieu of the ambitious young L.A.-based professional artist emerging into the international art world of the late twentieth century.

Each of these sociological case studies stands as part of Duffy’s ongoing interrogation of what constitutes art and who gets to say so: Are hot rods art? T-shirts? Album covers? File cabinets?
Are the social structures that coalesce around a shared admiration for the 1964 ½ Ford Mustang identical to those that generate consensus about the importance of Andy Warhol? Can artists’ perceptions of their position in relation to art history and the marketplace constitute the content of their artwork? Is that the only possible content for any artwork?

Deep, wide-ranging, socially charged questions but ones that Duffy anchors in sensually engaged (if ambivalently so) autobiographical detail. For example, his parents were amateur auto-racing enthusiasts, and the hand-painted, zebra-striped Toyota Land Cruiser included in his 2008 installation Hilites at the Miami Art Museum was a re-creation of the vehicle his father raced in the Mint 400 in the 1960s (the chunks of dismembered Mazda RX7 in the C.O.L.A. show could be the lonely remains of desert rally). Duffy’s Third Motorcycle (2006) is an exact depiction of the artist’s teenage-era Yamaha trail bike, painted on the gessoed surface of the original object itself, seamlessly grafting a tactile, laborious exegesis of personal history with cutting-edge cultural issues about authorship of iconic objects and images in the public imagination.

The simultaneous manifestation and transcendence of this dualism have been present in Duffy’s work all along but have steadily moved toward the center of his practice. As a result, his work has grown both increasingly relevant to immediate cultural issues and more timelessly introspective. In an era when so much of our shared mythology has been absorbed wholesale (or meticulously gleaned) from the mass media of consumer capitalism, the difference becomes indistinct.

Striking a balance between the inner and outer worlds has been the artist’s task throughout history, and Sean Duffy’s celebratory and elegiac conflation of the archetypes from his personal life and the metastasizing image bank of the digital age is a masterful summation of where we stand individually and as a society. On the brink of a critical mass of information, our culture faces the reemergence of an understanding of art that lies dormant beneath the “art star with a signature style” model—that of an endlessly self-replicating, collectively authored aesthetic commons.
— Doug Harvey