Creative Dundee

Blog: Figuring Stuff Out

Our blog series regularly invites guests to share their thoughts on different aspects of life in Dundee, their own practice, and anything in between!

In this edition, we hear from artist Sean Wheelan. After graduating from Gray’s School Of Art, Sean founded SPAM art collective and more recently spent some time on the GENERATORprojects committee. Sean offers us a generous insight into his work, his practices and how he was welcomed by Dundee’s creative scene.

Explaining my work has always been an issue. I’m not even sure work would be the right term for it. In informal settings, I usually resort to work or stuff or some other expletive but it always feels strange to refer to my practice. In perfect circumstances, I wish I could say my work is about nothing.

Attempting to make people laugh with my work has often been the foundation of what I do. It’s probably a defence mechanism as it’s typically myself that is depicted as the fool whether from attempting to fly with steel paper aeroplanes to struggling to put on a pair of trousers or failing at juggling some heads. I have a great appreciation for creatives who have more or less figured out who they are and what they do that they are able to form an identity.

My final year tutor brought up the reflective mentality of how every 7 years, you are in a different stage of life. Your maturity and understanding differs greatly from 7 years before. It seems pretty obvious but it is amazing how much a person can change in let alone 1 year as well as 7. I came across some old sketchbooks after a clear-out and it amazed me how much I was able to reflect on my mental health in years past through just a page of notes. My journey to figuring it out has led to personality-based works revolving around this angst from sculpture, videos, drawings and text works (apologies to companies who may have received these text works in the post).

Whoever reads this might be pretty sick of hearing about COVID, lockdowns and just wishes to move on with their lives. I don’t blame them but the past 18 months have been a very interesting experience not only for my practice but for me personally. As an introvert with delusions of becoming an extrovert (with a dollop of social anxiety disorder), the opportunity to stay home, watch TV and play my Switch didn’t seem too bad for me.  Inevitably, I began to feel guilty that I wasn’t actively creating, instead I was sitting at home watching murder mysteries.

The self-inflicted peer pressure had allowed me to consider how I would be able to be present whilst under a new set of limitations. Another shakeup to the work/life/practice balance was the arrival of my first child 7 months ago. We knew she would be premature, so all studio time took a step back as my wife and I adjusted to our wee wonder. As the initial fears and chaos settle, routine kicks in thus I have been able to get back into the act of creating. With the notion of being present still looming, I started to challenge myself. Whether it was getting back into drawing (strangely it was all bangers and mash related) or conjuring up some private performances involving seemingly impractical objects, my focus is not to prove a point to some stranger but myself, although the narrative my work takes may contradict this point. 

Some may be aware but, I was a committee member at GENERATORprojects, (a beast of an artist-run gallery if I may say so myself). My tenure was sadly cut short due to the aforementioned arrival of Baby Wheelan. It was an experience I will not regret as in spite of the lockdowns and lingering COVID it exposed me to the bigger picture of Dundee’s creative community. I arrived as a sort of outsider as I’m not from Dundee and I didn’t study at DJCAD, hailing from South Queensferry and Gray’s School of Art respectively. There were elements of the community I was not fully aware of. But through more involvement, I began to learn more and appreciate how the institutions look to support one and another. There is little room for ego and elitism as the city forges its own artistic identity, making it truly unique to others. 

Creating in Dundee through all the mental trials and tribulations has allowed me to feel comfortable in being up to something. All the confusion I cause by hopping on and off the bus of ideas makes me who I am. The only set rule I have for myself is to never name an artwork Untitled. One day I will be able to fully explain my work more effectively.

Maybe it will take another 7 years.

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