June 29, 2006


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New ground
Manchester artist takes risks to gain control
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Dennis Sheehan is breaking new ground with his own gallery in Langer Place.

With paintings in galleries in 30 states, the Manchester artist couldn’t keep track. Work would be sold and he wouldn’t see a dollar. He hired a head of sales, who sent each dealer a price list to buy wholesale – there would be no more consignment. Surprisingly, only a few refused, he said. He rewards them for buying three or four paintings by allowing them to hold a couple on consignment. Soon, dealers started asking where they could see his work. That’s when Sheehan decided to turn the space next to his studio into his own gallery.

Sheehan renovated the large, high-ceilinged mill space, and connected it to his studio so visitors can see work in progress. He uses the same lighting galleries use so dealers get the right effect. A gala opening is in the works.

Sheehan said plenty of artists have their own galleries but few have put their foot down about consignment. “I’ve sort of been preaching to all my artist friends, maybe they ought to try it,” he said.

However, Sheehan acknowledges that his following is strong enough that he can do that. Ethan Allen sells prints of his paintings, and Target does, too. That’s good news because an original Dennis Sheehan landscape can cost more than $8,000.

Sheehan’s work has hung in the White House; poet David Whyte wants to use a Sheehan painting for a book cover, and allegedly, one of his works has been appearing in scenes of Desperate Housewives.

Sheehan, born in Boston in 1950, had always been drawn to art, but when he was a student in the 1970s, “everything was abstract. To me it was off the wall,” he said. Pop art, modernism and expressionism were in; realism had been relegated to photography. He went to Vesper George Art School in Boston, which has since closed, and Montserrat in Beverly, Mass.

Sheehan never stopped following the realist style, copying old masters and contemporaries. A painting by New Hampshire’s Richard Whitney inspired him. “I thought, ‘Now that’s how to [paint].’” As a billboard painter in Stoneham, Sheehan convinced his employer to give him Fridays off to study with Whitney. Whitney had him painting landscapes outside although Sheehan went to learn portraits. “His method was to see color notes in nature,” he said. If you “put the color notes together correctly, you would be able to give a visual impression,” he said.

Sheehan became a disciple of George Inness, a mid-19th-century painter from New Jersey who was influenced by the Barbizon style of France.

“That’s the beauty of what Inness did. He gives the entire complete look,” Sheehan said. Sheehan’s landscapes look detailed from afar, but a closer look reveals none.

“It took quite a few years to finally develop a similar style,” Sheehan said.

“Nothing else intrigued me, nothing else motivated me.”

Sheehan works from sketches, memory, and photographs from his travels, as well as imagination, and tries to capture transitional lighting, like dusk or before a storm. He teaches monthly in New Hampshire and in Vermont. Sheehan lost his 14-year-old son, Jesse Isabelle, to an illness this month.

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com

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