I always counsel people on the power of repetitive doing. It’s ironic, because this is always the source of profoundly deep and personal style. You can feel the electricity as surely as you’re watching a world-class athlete when someone is really flowing in whatever their media. That kind of power is only found through diligent practice. You do the work, the duendé will give you the voice.
Fisherman, restaurant worker, in-home caregiver, sales agent, landscaper, bouncer, counselor, teacher, band frontman – all of these words can describe Sean Hurley at different snapshots of his varied life. But throughout the years, the common thread has always been the creation of art as a way to express his life experiences and feelings. Born and raised in the Northwest, Sean lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle. Recently he took time out from his busy life to share some of his artistic journey with Healing Hamlet.
My mother bought me comic books when I was very young. I drew those characters, all so rich and vivid in my imagination. Batman and Spiderman were alive to me, and I wanted to document that. But I loved music and singing also and was probably more compelled by those impulses. However, in second grade we participated in a Bicentennial art contest. We were to draw our patriotic second-grade posters, which would be judged. A winner would be named, an award awarded. Derek Jeffries sat to my left, and he was working up a rather nice little eagle. It has always been my talent to spot potential in an image which is underdeveloped. I merely upgraded Derek’s eagle into something with a little more bravado: I cleverly inscribed ” Oh Butiful America” over my glorious avian beast — and I was awarded the grand prize, a $25.00 savings bond, which later helped fund my first trip abroad. I received the praise of every teacher I saw, a definite first, and it seemed impolite not to assume the mantle of class artist. Things just kind of rolled on from there.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I’ve worked in a variety of ‘voices’ over time, which is necessary for anyone who is serious about a practice. The notion of a personal style or voice is strangely overvalued in many quarters of our culture; it presumes that people need to seek out guidance to have their own perspective, which is ludicrous. People do not need help finding their differences; we need help learning to share them in the most imaginative ways we can muster. So I’m a big fan of art as practice, whereas style is often more about how things look.
I have a thing about lives and patterns. That being said, my workspace really determines what I’m working on. I currently have very little designated workspace, therefore my graphic work is small, drawings mostly, with all sorts of little rules and reasons. I have all sorts of stuff created from mini-manias: masks, music, dolls with new sculpey heads… I’m thinking about leaning to sew. I look for that marvelous feeling, not in the work itself, but in one’s relationship to a piece of work.
You have the unique opportunity of working with people in crisis at the Seattle DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center). Have you found a way to integrate your artistic talents into this position? When have you experienced art to be healing for the DESC residents?
This topic is very close to my heart, and it is a huge thing to mull over. I will say: Yes, and often. For example, I copied a book of my drawings for clients to use as coloring pages, which is a very meditative activity. I will also sing to and with clients to soothe them.
Any other times where you witnessed art to be healing?
It’s a funny question; are your lungs healing? Is your voice healing, or your accent? Your taste in movies, or your choice in a spouse? Art is like that. What is truly healing is finding a practice that connects you, that produces harmony, which can be measured in many different ways (if you’re the measuring type). I always counsel people on the power of repetitive doing. It’s ironic, because this is always the source of profoundly deep and personal style. You can feel the electricity as surely as you’re watching a world-class athlete when someone is really flowing in whatever their media. That kind of power is only found through diligent practice. You do the work, the duendé will give you the voice.
I am lucky enough to have not only many truly wonderful friends, but totally brilliant ones. My community of friends in Seattle are so diverse, and so amazingly productive in so many ways… I’m mostly in awe of a lot of them.
You are also a musician. Can you tell us what you’re doing in music?
I’ve always written little folk songs, but I joined a band back in October called Sova, and it’s maybe the most fun thing I’ve ever done. I’m singing, which I have been terrified to do publicly my entire life. I’m writing lyrics, when I hate how banal they always seem, how they’re never just right. I also do all the band graphics. In the process, I found great friends who value work and fun, and we have this totally loud Rawk band. I think we’re going to try and play at the Hard Rock Cafe for our first show in a ‘battle of the bands!’ Are you all laughing? Because this all really cracks me up — it’s like playing a prank or being in a small, weird theater production. Now that is what Art should be like.
What artists inspire you?
They always change. I’m a gigantic Neil Gaiman fan, and I think his Sandman epic is wonderful literature; he worked with tons of fantastic artists as well. I love Tom Waits and the whole persona he’s created, all wrapped around such beautiful songs. The Beatles have always been a source of unflagging joy. Milton Glaser – I’ll never get to study with him, but my dear friend Bob Perlman did. Bob Perman and Robert Hardgrave, two good friends that I don’t see nearly enough, are my two favorite living painters. Jim Woodring, a close, close friend and a mentor, a genius cartoonist whose cartoons have evolved into an allegory on par with William Blake. Heck, I’m not even scratching the surface.
Music, drawing, writing, teaching. I do a fair amount of teaching, but not in anything related to the arts. I do regular presentations on the intersection of spirituality and social work, preparing potential Peer Specialists for their certification, which is what I do. I counsel suicidal and psychotic people 40 hours every week. It’s a pretty loaded dance card.
Where would you love to see yourself and your work in the future?
I sort of consider myself a talented amateur at this point; I make stuff all the time, but my focus now is primarily in integrating my life as much a possible, making hitherto disparate aspects of my creativity come together in new ways. I’m not really showing much, or publishing, or getting grants or write-ups, but I feel as confident as I ever have in the work I do, in whatever the medium. So I’m mostly just a scenester.
I’d love to see myself in a state of pretty regular joy. I care about the posterity of my work only insomuch as hoping it one day might provide a little pride in my descendants. Mostly I just want to follow my path.
Follow Sean Michael Hurley on his blog
Listen to Sean’s band, Sova, on their website