133 North Allegheny Street Bellefonte, Pa 16823
By Serge Bielanko
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” ― Pablo Picasso
At some point along the line every artist- every painter, every writer, every bedroom guitarist strumming in the nightstand lamplight- they all realize one thing. Either I rip away my ribcage and expose my heart and guts.....or I keep creating things that have no weight, no power, no soul. It's easier said than done. obviously. There is no simple way to just start making art...or should I say GOOD ART... that causes human connection. It takes time. You have to build yourself up to something like that.
You start smearing crayon on a piece of paper when you're a toddler. Things progress, but you now how it is. Rainbows. Stick people. Crooked houses with a pen smear Mom waving at a magic marker plane. The usual suspects pour out first. But then one day, if you stick with it, you graduate away from the basics and all. You end up drawing tears on the clown, so to speak. And if you're lucky, if you're one of the chosen ones who the Muses pick to move things forward on this dark/weird planet we call home, well....Pencil Dad ends up crying neath a purple pastel sky.
You get to creating things that maybe hurt to look at, or confuse your eyes, channeling something bigger than yourself even
Then one day, maybe...just maybe....the art museum calls you up.
We see what you've been doing, they say. We see how you've been revealing your busted heart and your banged-up guts. And we like it. A lot.
Okay, I know. That's probably not exactly how it all went down with Sean McCauley, the local artist behind the edgy new exhibit, Bad Feels, opening at the Bellefonte Art Museum this weekend. But who cares? Dude has been creating forever.
And now this.
A feature exhibit honoring the fact that his art is, as he puts it himself in the exhibit description, "a deep dive into my own insecurities, vulnerabilities, repressed memories, and inner demons."
McCauley's art seduces your intellect; you stare and think. And then suddenly, so many things happen to click all at once. You feel the connection explode inside you as you suddenly get it. THIS IS ME!, you holler out loud.
See, Sean McCauley, who has been a longtime graphic designing force with local agency 321Blink, formerly Loaded Creative, the joint right above Cool Beans Coffee shop. *(In full disclosure: Sean's boss, Mark Dello Stritto also runs this website, Bellefonte.com. But these days, even as Sean continues to help sail the commercial marketing ship down on High Street, he's also finally breaking out his personal stash of art for the people to see. And it's bound to cause some reaction.)
Well, like the best art, McCauley's stuff is one thing on the surface and then another thing entirely beneath it. In between are the layers of subtle hinting and prodding that the best creations egg on from us.
These are modern images with ancient baggage.
"Call it a protest against an age where social media and prescription drugs conspire to convince us that everyone is happy all the time," explains McCauley. Truth is: ain't nobody happy all the time, y'all. And that reality is a blazing one in the face of so much of the modern snake oil versions of how to live that they're selling you out in cyber space.
People who have lived and breathed, who have hurt and climbed back up to their feet, those are usually the ones we have to pay the closest attention to. If you don't understand that notion by now, well, I can't help you.
In the end, I wanted to know more about how a local graphic designer creating on a computer in a Bellefonte office ended up masterminding an exhibit of deeply personal art at a well-respected museum right around the corner from his 'real job'.
And I'm really glad I asked.
Here's our complete interview, me and McCauley.
By the time you reach the end you're probably gonna want to buy him a beer.
Bellefonte.com: I'm always curious about this. Were you creative as a kid? Did you draw or paint....did your create art even back when you were in elementary school?
Sean McCauley: I did. My Mother would bring home computer paper from work from the time I was 3 or 4 and I loved drawing on it. This was the old printer paper that came in one long sheet and had alternating green lines, and tear-off holes on the side. I would draw aliens, robots, monster trucks, the usual. From there I was always drawing or doodling on my notebooks and tablets, or on the back of school assignments and tests. My aunt is another person who always encouraged me to be creative. I was always allowed to wear my hair the way I wanted, dress how I wanted, so I don't think it's just art, I was encouraged to be myself.
If so, why do you feel like you never strayed too far from art, from that creative aspect of your inner self?
Art is not something I necessarily separate from the other parts of my life. Creativity underlies everything we do. If you can nurture your ability to see things differently, to explore new possibilities, it can only serve you in anything you set out to do. But as far as visual art, it started out as a place I could go to think about things. Growing up, I liked drawing, but I wasn't focused on creating finished art, it was a meditation, an exercise, like taking my brain for a walk and then letting it off the leash for a while. What I ended up drawing was almost secondary. From there, art became my job, in the form of graphic design, and that's an entirely different proposition. With this Bad Feels project, I feel like I've rediscovered the feeling of escaping into a world of my own creation, but with a new twist borne out of perspective, where the resulting art is also significant.
This is your first exhibit of your work ever? If not: where else and when?
Yes, this is truly the first time I've had artwork on public display. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), but again, my career path took me into commercial art and design, so it's not the kind of work that you collect and put on display. The intent is completely different. At work, I'm striving to tell someone else's story. I maintain a certain distance from the work so that I can remain objective about the client's goals. I enjoy that for the most part because I'm an introvert, I don't like to be in the spotlight personally. If I create a logo that people love, and it's out there in the world, that makes me really happy knowing that I made it happen from behind the scenes. However, I've reached a point in life where there are things I want to say, and I've realized the magic in putting yourself out there and sharing your art, music, stories, thoughts, your humanity, your unique self.
You say this on the BAM site: "This exhibit is the result of a deep dive into my own insecurities, vulnerabilities, repressed memories, and inner demons. Call it a protest against an age where social media and prescription drugs conspire to convince us that everyone is happy all the time." That's a revealing statement in that it hints at art as a dealing/healing mechanism for you. Is that true? How?
It has been in this case. Creating these drawings was therapeutic and cathartic in a way that I didn't expect. I dug up the types of issues one might discuss with a therapist, from unresolved childhood experiences, to old wounds that seem silly when you say them out loud, like a name that somebody called me, but those can follow you for years. "Am I what that person called me? Is that why I'm not everything I wanted to be?" I decided to take an unflinching look at whatever was haunting me and create an honest representation of it, some more metaphorical, some more literal. I pulled those negative emotions out into the light and distilled them down into what you might even consider a cartoon. It defuses and deflates them, but still respects them. It's not about fighting them off, it's about seeing them in a different, softer way, and to some degree gently accepting them as a part of who I am.
So if someone has been battling 'inner demons' and then comes across your stuff and feels better, more hopeful- if only for a while- do you hope you hear from them? Or is that the thing with art...you just have to have faith that someone/somewhere is making the connection....without notice to you?
I'm not sure that they will make anyone feel better or more hopeful, those seem like overly optimistic goals. If people can identify with one or two of them, if they see something that resonates and makes them say "I know exactly how that feels, I know just where you're coming from on that one, or I've been through the same thing", that would make my day.
As a graphic designer you create for other people on a daily basis. But this is somehow different. Having your own exhibit open up in an actually very well-respected art museum is not something many folks ever experience. Are you proud? Scared? Hopeful? What are you hoping to have happen the most?
I have to especially thank Lori Fisher from the Bellefonte Art Museum for this opportunity. I was working with her on their Imagination Celebration last year, and she asked me if I'd ever like do my own show. Agreeing to do it was the first step (taken over a year ago), even though I had no idea what I was going to show. It's half excitement, half nervousness, but I'm genuinely interested to see what people think when they come in and experience it.
You were the brainchild and main executor of the brilliant Yarn Bombing of Bellefonte that happened last year. It was a colorful and playful moment in this town's long, but often stodgy, history. For some strange reason: art works here. It becomes us. There are more artists and art in the Bellefonte area than probably any Central Pa town has a right to claim. Why do you think art works here so well?
I agree that there are a surprising amount of wildly talented artists and musicians in town. I would like to see more happening in the area of public artworks, whether it be sculpture, murals, or more temporary installations such as yarnbombing. The town should reflect that artistic undercurrent that we know is here. The Art Museum's 24-hour outdoor gallery is definitely a step in the right direction.
'Bad Feels' / Sean McCauley
Bellefonte Art Museum, 133 North Allegheny Street,
October 4 - October 27 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday 12:00-4:30)
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