2023 September 07 to December 02 Sean Shanahan Plainsong

From September 6 to December 2, 2023

Opening on Tuesday, September 5from 6PM

Tours as part of Geneva Art Week Saturday September 16 at 11:00 and 15:00 in the presence of the artist and Valentina Locatelli

Sean Shanahan (b. 1960, Dublin, Ireland, lives and works in Olgiate Molgora, Lecco, Italy) has spent the past four decades developing a sophisticated and personal aesthetic vocabulary able to convey and transmit to the viewer the complexity of his intimate artistic reflections on colour, shape and, more recently, space.

The exhibition at Espace Muraille is Shanahan’s first solo show in Switzerland. It is the latest result of the artist’s painstaking and ongoing research on the relationship that exists between the pictorial surface, the three-dimensional support and the architectural elements of the space where his artworks are presented.

While during the first part of his career, the artist ‘succeeded in creating a new genre of monochrome painting’ which ‘takes shape as a “painting-object” through the fusion of the materials’ and colours it is made of (Locatelli, in Singular Episodic, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Lissone, 2020), over the last three years Shanahan has mostly concentrated his investigations on the physical interaction of his works with the surrounding space and their specific presentation within it.

This new artistic process started in 2016 with the exhibition Seven Last Words (Galleria San Fedele, Milano), on which occasion Shanahan’s work consciously shaped for the first time the museum complex of the Church of San Fedele in which it was installed. Rather than to limit the space or to merely interact with its architectural characteristics, Seven Last Words demonstrated that Shanahan’s mono- and polychromatic paintings have evolved into site-specific objects modelled, both in form and colour, in relation to the context where they are displayed. It was not until 2021, however, that Shanahan’s way towards polychromatic painting was finally paved. Then, the show Sudden Time (Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese) marked a further and clear shift for the artist, enabling him to leave behind his early predilection for a strictly monochromatic approach and start instead to imagine new expressive combinations and juxtapositions of colours, all of which are born in response to the lighting and architecture of the exhibition space.

In 2023, Shanahan’s two latest exhibitions were devoted respectively to the artist’s personal and yet theatrical reflection on the topic of death, loss and eternity (Cuore a Fette, Building Gallery, Milan) and to the consequent opportunity to be reborn and find a fresh start (New Grass, Fortezza Medicea, Arezzo). It is precisely on the backdrop of this evolution that the exhibition at Espace Muraille has been conceived and developed.

By focusing on the artist’s reflection on the Renaissance – understood both literally as the action of being reborn and historically as the period of cultural, artistic and economic ‘rebirth’ following the Middle Ages in Europe – Plainsong marks a phase of consolidation of Shanahan’s mature pictorial values and is no less than the artist’s strong statement about his artistic achievements so far.

Critically addressing some fundamental principles and elements of the Italian Renaissance – from a multi-layered interpretation of Leon Battista Alberti’s notion of painting as a ‘window’ to the colour palette privileged by the Italian painters in the Quattrocento and Cinquecento –Plainsong offers the sum of Shanahan’s reflections on shapes, colours, measures, volumes and position in space. The exhibition provides an encompassing perspective over his work, setting his new personal canon or ‘maniera’. At the same time, it underlines the artist’s consolidated practice of connecting music and painting. By choosing the title Plainsong for the exhibition, Shanahan has once more openly decided to underscore the strong link which exists between the creative process of musical and pictorial productions – an important leitmotiv of his artistic output throughout the years.

The show at Espace Muraille will stimulate and surprise the audience, taking it on a journey into the deconstruction of Shanahan’s pictorial vocabulary. Opening new and unexpected perspectives and point of views on the architectural space of Espace Muraille, Plainsong will investigate and reveal the anatomy of Shanahan’s paintings, the subtle relation of emptiness or void and fullness, static and movement, by questioning and pushing the boundaries of colours, material and space.

The show is set to provide a complete disruption of the concept of the ‘white cube’: the spaces of Espace Muraille will cease to be merely an incubator: the paintings, architectural settings and curatorial interventions will transform it into a pictorial organism. Shanahan’s works installed at Plainsong will challenge the audience to undergo a visual and physical experience that emphasises the liminality of contemporary painting and questions the limits (and the possibilities) of painting today.

Curator: Valentina Locatelli


Espace Muraille

Born in Dublin in 1960, Sean Shanahan is a visual artist whose practice resides primarily in painting. His aesthetics embraces and exploits forms and colours to convey his interpretation and experience of life.

Shanahan has spent his childhood growing up in Britain receiving an English education at Eton College. His academic career took shape at the Heatherley School of Fine Art in Chelsea and the Croydon College of Art and Design where he pursued fine art and history of art studies. In 1983 he moved to Milan where he held his first solo show in the Luigi De Ambrogi gallery. In 1986 he was awarded a scholarship for the Fundación Olivar de Castillejo in Madrid. At the end of the 1980s he lived and worked between Madrid, Cologne and New York. During the 1990s Shanahan’s painting underwent a radical shift as he began to work on MDF (medium density fiberboard) and with oil painting as the characteristic of oils favoured the application of the material allowing the final result to be more fluid and transparent. In 1997 Shanahan moved to Montevecchia, near Lecco, where he set up a studio, and since 1990 he has been living and working in Olgiate Molgora.

Shanahan’s work has encountered the interest of Giuseppe Panza di Biumo (1923–2010) who collected it in a systematic strategy. Shanahan’s paintings included in the Panza Collection have been exhibited through the years at important collective shows such as State of Mind. Minimal Art (Lucca Center of Contemporary Art, 2010) and La percezione del futuro. La collezione Panza a Perugia (Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, 2015). Furthermore, since the exhibition Sudden Time (2021), a selection of Shanahan’s paintings are permanently installed in the Villa Panza in Varese. Through the years Shanahan has been invited to hold several lectures in academies around the globe. Since 2019 he is teaching professor in the Visual Art department at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti) in Milan.

Shanahan’s work has been featured in numerous further important solo and group exhibitions, such as: Singular Episodic (Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Lissone, 2020); Body of Light (Luca Tommasi Arte Contemporanea, Milan, 2018); Seven Last Words (Galleria San Fedele, Milan, 2016); Unique Act (The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, 2008); Cuore a fette (Building Gallery, Milan, 2023).

Opening Sean Shanahan