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Sean Cheetham

December 4, 2016


WALT MORTON: The idea of the "Western" as a myth to tell exciting stories has been around for at least 100 years. Everything from cowboy novels to Hollywood movies, the Western genre never disappoints viewers. What do you find most appealing about this genre and what can you do to keep it new and interesting?

SEAN CHEETHAM: I've always been drawn to cowboys and the old west. Ever since I can remember I had at least one pair of cowboy boots around. Even at a time in my early teens when it was the farthest thing from cool. It's also part of America's history especially in the west. Also having studied illustration there's plenty of great western art that came out of the golden era of illustration in America that I find inspiring. I'm not too concerned with keeping it new or interesting to the viewer but enjoyable for myself first. I would like to keep it a little more authentic than some of the more romantic interpretations.

WALT MORTON: I’ve seen you put on some cowboy rig and wear the guns and fire a cowboy-style lever action rifle. I’ve also seen you forging your own frontier-style Bowie knife. What do you think an artist gets out of handling the real tools, shooting, getting their hands on the authentic stuff of the old west? What does that add?

SEAN CHEETHAM: For me authenticity wasn't the first thing I was concerned about. But it does help if you are going to show in some of the venues where authenticity is very important. People will call you out on your shit.

WALT MORTON: You often use artists, friends, or people you know as models. Does that make it easier to paint if you know them? Or more fun to paint? Is it familiarity, ease, or more than that?

SEAN CHEETHAM: I have definitely always preferred to paint friends for my personal work. After all it is personal work. I do find the familiarity to be helpful in capturing the soul of the sitter. Even if I'm doing a commission I want to at least meet the sitter and get to know them a little bit.

WALT MORTON: You frequently teach portrait painting as a core skill. How many portraits have you done in the last ten years and - distilling that experience down — what’s the most important thing to getting a good result in a portrait?

SEAN CHEETHAM: I have no idea how many portraits I have done in the last 10 years. I probably should've been keeping track. I could come up with a number but it would be a complete guess. During a semester I will do quite a few but during downtime I probably won't. The biggest thing in getting a good portrait I think is knowing how to draw. Or at least from a teaching standpoint, that is the most common weakness. And (knowing how to draw is) probably first on the list in order of importance for getting realistic results.

WALT MORTON: If you continue to explore the Western genre, where might you go? What are you interested in exploring or developing? Any idea where this might lead? Towards a show or a book? Maybe an album cover for your band Del Toro covering some Country music? Where’s your frontier?

SEAN CHEETHAM: I will definitely continue to explore the Western genre. I plan on exploring a little bit of the darker side of the west. To me it's the part that often gets overlooked. In many ways it was a very terrible time. And I think that opens up all kinds of possibilities for interesting artistic interpretation. I'm sure it will lead to another show and possibly a book. An album cover would be great too. As with some music videos. We already do some western covers in the band. So more of that too yes.

WALT MORTON: I’ve seen a lot of the good results you get in painting come from a very disciplined and methodical (skilled/crafted) approach. Your palette is laid out with shocking consistency and your work process is logical and step-by-step. What can you say about process — what does working in a highly organized manner give you?

SEAN CHEETHAM: I learned to work in a highly organized manner in school. I think a lot of it comes from studying illustration and having deadlines. No matter what I'm doing it's really about being efficient. How can I get from A-to-Z as quickly as possible. I was never taught traditional painting techniques like underpainting or glazing. And I never really liked the idea of painting something twice when I could just take the time to mix the color right the first time. Or at least try to.

Sean Cheetham was born in 1977. He has a Bachelor of Fine Art degree with honors from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. He exhibited his work in 2005 at the Portrait Award National Portrait Gallery in London, England. In 2006, Sean had his first one man exhibition with The Mendenhall Sobieski Gallery in Pasadena. Since then, Sean has emerged as one of the most popular portrait painters and teachers of portrait painting on the west coast. His workshops are universally acclaimed for the level of clarity, craft and quality he brings to the easel. Lately, Sean has begun exploring Western art from the ground up, ranging from shooting a .45 cowboy sixgun to hand-forging his own Bowie knives from hot steel.

Walt MortonComment