Interview with pop surreal artist Sean Madden

Sean Madden’s unique paintings and drawings have been grabbing the attention of art fans and collectors in the alternative art scene for many years. He shows his work on both the east and west coasts in the U.S., and has recently begun working with the Dream Factory gallery in Frankfort, Germany. Purple Boston Terriers smoke cigarettes and ride tricycles across his canvases, while beautiful women glow with waves of fluctuating color. His fans call him “the mad scientist of art.” His works abound with bizarre creatures culled from the deepest depths of the psyche.
Hello dear Sean, please, tell us how did you find the artist inside you? How long have you been doing art? Is art something that you always wanted to do?
Art is something I’ve done my entire life, yes. It was the very first identity I embraced as a person. I’ve been an artist since I was a small child, and my art was always bizarre. The other kids in school stood around my desk in school to watch me draw weird things. As an adolescent, I painted and drew constantly. I was a juvenile delinquent back then, and got into trouble constantly. My neighborhood was insane, and my friends and I were deviant psychedelic weirdos who were in trouble with the police incessantly. Naturally, my art reflected these experiences, and I had a reputation for many years as being a very offensive, iconoclastic artist.

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?
When I was in 8th grade, I saw a book of Salvador Dali’s work and my head exploded. I couldn’t believe how beautiful his works were. I wanted to reach as far as he did into the subconscious. I also saw Ernst Fuchs’ work around this time, and had a similar reaction. Again, I just couldn’t believe how deep inside he had reached. My immediate reaction to both of these artists, amazing skill notwithstanding, was that they saw the same visions in their heads as I did in mine. This helped me to realize that I was in very precious company in this Universe. I didn’t feel alone.

I also saw the early ZAP comics at this time, and it completely changed my life. It was the mid-70’s and the psychedelic era was just coming to a close. These artists helped me realize how truly powerful artistic expression could be. Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Crumb—they were just so fearless. It was so inspiring to me.

I consciously have sought to provide the same level of inspiration to other people through my art, and I don’t mean this in an egotistical manner at all, I mean it in a very selfless way. Any artist (or musician or author) who shines their light in the darkness without fear, opens up a path for others to follow. It gives permission. Dali and Fuchs and Zappa and Bukowski did this for me, whether they’re aware of it or not, and I’ve had others tell me that I do it for them. That makes me happy.
How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?
I grab my brushes and start painting as soon as the caffeine gets me moving in the morning. I’m usually working on 2-3 paintings at a time. But my favorite time to paint is after 11:00 at night. The whole world is asleep and I’m all alone. I’m constantly conceiving new paintings and drawings. My brain never stops working.
What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art? Do you think an art education is important or imperative for anybody wishing to be an artist? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that you have encountered throughout your career with/without the formal training of the Art Academy?
I have a master’s degree, but it’s not in art, it’s in a completely different discipline. As an adult, I didn’t go to college for fine arts. I knew my art was too psycho-representational to be a commercial success. It was just too expressive and weird. I wanted to have a stable career in another field. I wanted to make sure that I could paint freely without worrying about income, and I didn’t want to cater to the demands of an art director. So, I have the best of both worlds—I’ve been free to do what I want artistically, and have a solid career to fall back on.

This doesn’t mean I’m untrained however- quite the contrary. My mother was an exhibiting artist, and she instructed me throughout my childhood. As an adolescent, I ended up a program for juvenile delinquents on the east side of Buffalo. It was a very rough place. The teachers there noticed my art talent, and they connected me up with a paid position as an artist’s apprentice. I worked under a respected art teacher, and he taught me classic oil painting technique, and how to use light and form as tools of expression. It was very valuable experience for me, and changed my life. I continue to study with private teachers on and off as well. I’ll never stop studying this craft.

What fascinates you the most about surrealism / pop surrealism / contemporary art / lowbrow art? How would you describe your style? What themes do you pursue, what surrealism mean to you and what do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?
Surrealism began as a visual exploration of the subconscious via symbols, archetypes, and free-associative dream imagery. This is fascinating in its own right, but it’s even cooler these days because it’s been coupled with pop culture imagery. I love mixing dream imagery with pop culture imagery. The effect can be funny at times, and it has a playful feel to it, which I like. A perfect example of this would be Mark Ryden’s work—tiny Abraham Lincolns carrying slabs of meat for evil little girls with bloody eyes. Amazing. So, I like to open up my mind and show you what’s in there, and I like other artists who can do this. Psycho-representative imagery fascinates me, and the ability to reach in and pull it out is a rare gift.

What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?
I can do something that no one else can do. I’ve created a unique universe, and I’m the only one who has the keys to it. I can show it to you. Additionally, I’m a jazz guitarist, and I’m just as proficient on the guitar as I am with paint - so I can let you hear what my mind sounds like. Music and art are symbiotic forms of expression. I see color and shapes in my head when I play with my band, and parts of paintings have sound to them.
Can you describe your typical workflow when you’re working on your art? What are your tools of trade? What medium do you most often use and why?
I work quite a bit in pen and ink when I’m not painting with oils. I like pen and ink a lot, and have done a lot of work with it - illustrated for books and magazines, that kind of thing. It can be so expressive, and it requires a different kind of planning than a painting does because there is no white paint being used to represent highlights and lighting. It feels more physical and dramatic to me. Plus—it’s in my blood. My early heroes were guys like Robert Crumb and Robert Williams, both masters of the medium.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
I’ve done some sculpture, and have enjoyed it, but have simply been too busy to do it regularly.
Tell us more about your workspace. What was the most funny or weird thing that happened to you in your studio? What is / was the most strange thing hiding in your studio?
I live in a very large house in the country. My studio is on the lower level. Despite my efforts to keep them out, the occasional mouse drops in for a visit. There have been times when I’ve painted late into the evening, and will see one dart by out of the corner of my eye.

Other than this, it is a beautiful space filled with easels, tables, and everything an artist can dream of: paper, brushes, and tons of canvases. There is also music—always music. I can’t paint without music.
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
I think simply pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable is a huge challenge. I started out as an iconoclast, but have really backed away from it, as it isn’t a wise choice commercially. Now, I’m just having fun. Plus, I think it’s just simply out of my system now. I just want to turn other people on now.
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?
The best advice was to read “Letters to a Young Poet,” by Rilke. Read it, then read it again. Trust me.
What do you dislike about the art world? What is the hardest thing on being an artist? Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
The art world can be filled with elitist snobs, but I don’t bother with them - I’m usually having such a good time. I ignore them completely, and I have fun with everyone else in the art scene. People have me signing autographs and taking pictures with them, and they come to my shows and they tell me how much they love my work. I’m so lucky to have had these experiences. I’ve found the art scene, and the people in it, to be one of the greatest subcultures ever, and the people in it treat me like gold. I have nothing but good things to say about my fans, and I take their love seriously. At shows, crazy people come to see me and they’re dressed in crazy clothes and they’re full of crazy energy, and it’s beautiful. They understand my work, and they feel it, and I don’t have to explain it to them. It’s all an oasis from the rest of humanity -  and all the power, control, greed and misery.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?
I want to die with a paintbrush in one hand, and a guitar strapped to my chest. I want to spread my inner visions and sounds to as many like-minded beautiful people as I can. It’s not work to me. My art is all over this planet, and I feel so fortunate to have been given this gift.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?
Find your voice before you begin speaking out loud. It takes years to find your true voice, but once you do… they’ll listen, and when they do finally listen, it will be the right people.
Your favorite art or life quote is ...
“You can’t run from your own legs.” J.R. Bob Dobbs
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?
I’ve stopped playing with my trio because our bass player moved away, and he was too good to replace. So, I’ve begun to experiment with looping pedals to create soundscapes with my guitar. I’m developing my own solo acid jazz act, which I’ll premier at a gallery show I have this July in Buffalo at the 464 gallery. It’s a solo show, and I’ll also do an artist talk as well - so it’ll be quite a night.
Do you have an online portfolio, blog or social medias where we can view your work?
Yes, my website is: Viewers can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. My website has links on it for both, as well as my blog.
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there any project you are working on right now or any ongoing event or exhibition you would like to share with our readers?
I’ve been asked by people to start an online store for prints and original works. I’ll get this going soon, and will have it up and running by this summer! I’ll announce it as soon as it’s ready, and will have a huge print sale to celebrate it opening up!
Thank you dear Sean, it was a honor to interview you, I wish you only the best for you and your art and already looking forward to see your new art works :)
By contributor Linda. Mar 2015. Find Oh, So Surreal on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google + or RSS.