Fantasy, reality meld in Seamus Conley’s dreamy explorations 

click to enlarge “Po Boy” is among San Francisco artist Seamus Conley’s works on view in “Catch My Fade” at Andrea Schwartz Gallery. - COURTESY SEAMUS CONLEY/ANDREA SCHWARTZ GALLERY
  • “Po Boy” is among San Francisco artist Seamus Conley’s works on view in “Catch My Fade” at Andrea Schwartz Gallery.
Lone figures inhabit haunting, otherworldly landscapes in the paintings of Seamus Conley, who combines images of fantasy and reality and other contrasting entities in his hyperrealistic works. Conley continues to explore this theme in his new series, in which he looks at the inner and external worlds of daydreamers.

“Catch My Fade,” at Andrea Schwartz Gallery in The City through June 5, contains about a dozen recent works by Conley, whose oil paintings contain slickly rendered fantasy imagery along with rougher, documentary-style material representing truth. Conley crafts these landscapes on a computer, using images from the Internet.

Painted largely in icy blues and doomsday grays, Conley’s beautiful and apocalyptic sci-fi canvases often feature solitary figures facing away from the viewer as they observe, examine, or run from presumably menacing or horrific scenarios. The facelessness of the subjects gives Conley’s paintings, which suggest solitude, loss and trauma, an element of universality.

Having previously painted trendy teen mallgoers and homeless drifters – the San Francisco-based artist has cited Market Street as an inspiration for his contrasting imagery – Conley uses a young boy as the chief subject in this series.

As these notably pale but vitally present figures experience Conley’s dreamscapes – an exquisitely desolate environment in “Glow Bug” (60 by 48 inches) or overlapping realistic and mystical imagery in the cloudy “Vesper” (60 by 48 inches) – the paintings become powerful portraits of predicament.

Conley provides few explanations for his eerie, strange scenarios, but logic isn’t, of course, a driving factor in a dream. He lets the viewer decide what precisely is transpiring in his surrealistic scenes.

In “Myth” (36 by 36 inches), a hooded figure sits at the base of a rooty tree that looks as if it stepped out of a macabre fairy tale, while a smoky gray atmosphere enhances the feeling of doom. Ruined buildings constitute a nonfantasy component, which makes the overall impact more chilling.

In “Po Boy” (30 by 40 inches), a shirtless boy crouches on a freezing ground before a lifeless lamb. Behind this unsettling dream image, the lights of a city glow on a hillside, reflecting the presence of ordinary life.

The boy gets a break in the fairy-tale blue “Hymm” (36 by 48 inches), in which a stunning white horse instead occupies center stage, on frigid terrain. An everyday truck stop complements the mystical world.

The show also contains several graphite drawings, which serve as sketches for some of the paintings.

Conley, who has exhibited in galleries throughout California, received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2006 and was nominated for a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art SECA Award in 2007.


Seamus Conley: Catch My Fade

Where: Andrea Schwartz Gallery, 545 Fourth St., S.F.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; closes June 5

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 495-2090,

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Anita Katz

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