A whole lot of gum gave its sticky sweet life to Sean O’Meallie’s cause.
The toy inventor turned Colorado Springs artist chewed hundreds of sugar-free pieces over the course of months and saved them in his freezer (“My wife is a wonderfully supportive person,” says O’Meallie) before crafting his new piece, “Gum Painting #5.”
“Some people will be utterly grossed out and that’s OK,” he says.
And now, here lies the finished product, on a table in O’Meallie’s spacious woodworking shop. If you get close enough, you can still smell the sweet and fruity flavors of the well-masticated gum. Shortly it will be on its way to Hoag Gallery at Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center in Pueblo, where it will join more than 100 other new painted wood sculptures by O’Meallie in his new exhibit “Line + Shape + Color + Noise.” The show runs through Jan. 17.
O’Meallie’s works are at once many things: whimsical, funny, absurd, kind, curious, fresh.
“I like to take my brain and play in all the corners,” he says. “It fuels me.”
A visit to his mighty wood lab reveals a few more ubercreative pieces finished and ready for the upcoming show. There’s “Psychedelic Potato Rainbow,” pieces of wood (O’Meallie prefers basswood and maple) shaped to resemble potatoes, painted in reds, blues, greens and purples, and strung end by end to shape a rainbow. A painted pot of gold catches each side of the arc.
Next to it is a 32-pound meteorite excavated from the Sikhote-Alin meteor event in Russia in 1947. It seems out of place, but not to O’Meallie, who borrowed it for the show from its anonymous Denver owner. He finds an interesting commonality between the space object and the root vegetable.
On the potato: “They’re humble. A potato comes out of the earth and soil. I’m Irish. My people are connected to potatoes in historically profound ways.”
On the meteorite: “It’s now an earthly object. It was hurtled through space and pulled from the soil and plays into what we all have to contemplate when we look at the stars in the darkness of the night and take shelter in the warmth of the sun. It’s had no relationship to the earthly value system. But now it’s here and serves to remind us of the void of space.”
Also standing nearby is a maquette of the exhibit’s primary piece: “Black Door.” O’Meallie covered an 80-inch-by-32-inch door in Singularity Black, a carbon nanotube-based pigment that absorbs almost all reflected light. The door sits in the middle of an 8-foot-by-7-foot plinth. It will be the largest piece in the show.
“It’s the black void, the nothingness,” he says. “Everything else in the show plays against that.”
O’Meallie is as diverse as his works. Yes, he’s a self-taught woodworker who learned the craft around 20. But he also is equally a thinker. He describes himself as a one-time philosophy aficionado, who studied psychology for a short time in college before reverting back to art.
“I’m always interested in how human existence is thought about and communicated and how we respond to being here,” he says. “There’s a lot of absurdity. I use humor to deal with it. Humor is going to be even more important now than ever.”
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