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Sean Cheetham
at Katherine Cone Gallery, Culver City, California
Preview by A. Moret

Borrowing a TV catchphrase for the opulence of celebrity, Sean Cheetham's subjects are anything but.

Continuing through March 10, 2012


Robin Leach coined the catchphrase that toasted viewers to “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams” at the conclusion of each episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” a syndicated T.V. program that chronicled the opulence and glory of celebrities. Painter Sean Cheetham borrows the tagline for his current solo exhibition with a series of portrait paintings that trace lone women, often tattooed and pierced urbanities with teased and colored coifs in a world that is neither decadent nor worthy of syndication. Often depicted in solitary domestic environs clouded by a sense of impending dread and contemplation, Cheetham’s subjects are the exact opposite of whom Robin Leach had in mind during his fond farewells. The subjects rendered in oil paint on Arches paper and linen do not live the lifestyle of the rich and famous but are victims of ennui, stoic in their ability to endure the grime of modern life while they simultaneously appear to be veiled by a layer of mud from the artist’s delicate brushstrokes. Following in a rich tradition of classic portraiture, Cheetham mixes colors and textures on the canvas in a manner that plays a game of tug of war with shadow and light. The female subjects possess, as a sort of physical armor, elaborate tattoo sleeves and distant expressions. But their tough guise is broken when Cheetham floods compositions with light, opening the window of another insight that soaks her subjects in both luminosity and vulnerability.


In “Bone Amie” an olive skinned woman with tangled dark hair leans on a divan topless. Her gaze is directed to a distant scene diverting the viewer’s gaze, while her left hand grasps her upper thigh. The room in which she is lying does not seem to match the personality of the woman with a nose ring and skull on her chest. The patterned divan (which appears to be hiding a canvas from view) seems in stark contrast to the modern brick design above the fireplace. While it is indeterminate if the woman actually belongs to this domestic space, her form is caught in the twilight of Cheetham’s technical skill, which at once drowns the subject in darkness yet caresses her in light. In coaxing such rich light from an otherwise bleak setting, the artist presents “Bone Amie” in a new way, as a nouveau odalisque. This is a beautiful woman confident in the curves of her own flesh, unafraid of her sexuality or freedom to express herself through tattoo art and makeup. She implies that “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” are often much simpler and less opulent in reality. 


Cheetham often injects himself as a subject in his works as seen in his self-portrait, which bears the same title as the exhibition. A close-up confrontation with the viewer, Cheetham appears wearing a black hooded sweatshirt covering his hairline but exposing his glistening forehead and a fresh black eye. The skin has been broken on his cheek while the right pupil is stained a crimson red. The stare is both deliberate and brutally honest, as the self-portrait does not glorify the act of creation or falsify the image of the creator. Cheetham makes no apology for his presenting a world cloaked in uncertainty, where the grime of modernity becomes part of the human form.


Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal © 2012

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