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Salisbury native returns from West Coast to open gallery/studio in Vergennes

VERGENNES — Ross Sheehan is back in town, again. He and his wife, Cat Cutillo, bopped from New York City (where they met), to Reno, Nev., to San Francisco, to Vergennes, back to San Francisco, and are now back in Vergennes. Maybe this time for good?
The first time they moved to Vergennes in 2011, the couple fulfilled a longtime dream and opened Outerlands Gallery — showing their own work as well as others — at 37 Green St. But “dream jobs” pulled them back to the Bay Area in 2014.
Sheehan was working with museums and Cutillo had a photography gig with Half Moon Bay Review (a print media company).
“I was doing very practical work,” said Sheehan. “Hanging art, painting walls, working with artists, dealers and collectors.” But after a year and a half, Sheehand said he started getting “frustrated, depressed and down.”
“The financials weren’t working out for us there and I was totally burnt out sitting at a desk relearning how to use Excel. So I asked myself: ‘What’s missing?’”
Making art, that’s what.
“Taking a break from my art was probably the best thing that I’ve ever done,” he said. When he came back to it, Sheehan found the Cali-funk movement was influencing his art. “I got caught up in that whole movement, and am influenced by the colors and textures… it’s figurative, bright, cartoony art.”
But don’t let this fool you, Sheehan’s style is certainly not limited to Cali-funk. In fact, Sheehan’s work is not really limited to anything — his creations range from metal work, to wood work, to paintings, drawings, textured art, collages and the forever possibility of something new.
“My body of work has splintered in different directions and into different styles, but derives from a central common core,” reads Sheehan’s artist statement. “For years, I have been editing and re-working paintings and sculptures. In most cases, I keep a ghost image, chunks of material, or collaged media, which I mummify under heavy impastos of oil paint. If an in-progress work of art lies sedentary or neglected for a long period time, I scrape off and salvage what I can for the next artwork in line for production.”
The most recent move back to Vermont was a challenge because he had to move a lot of wet paintings. “Nothing could touch the surfaces,” Sheehan said in an interview last week. “I’m pretty much done unpacking them now and continuing to work on them.”
This past fall, Sheehan moved his work into their old Outerlands Gallery space on Green Street in Vergennes — which turned into a rental property for the time they were away. “I have a huge urge to make a mess of this place,” said Sheehan, looking around the whitewashed gallery. The space is small, and has the appropriate charm of an early 1900s carriage house; accented with exposed beams, an uneven floor and a curved ceiling. Some of Sheehan’s work is hanging, while other work is splayed across the floors, perched on tables and clipped to easels. He hopes to have the gallery, which he’ll continue to use as a studio, ready for visitors this spring.
“I’ve always worked in seclusion,” he said. “Usually my studio is in a garage or some makeshift space. Having a studio that’s open to the public is new for me.”
We’ll see how it goes; but don’t be surprised if one day the now clean and white gallery becomes splashed with colorful paint.
“My studio becomes its own microcosm with its own cycle of life — the leftovers, the scraps from one piece of work are ‘composted’ back into the next, creating a rich foundation for re-growth,” he said. Plus, he hates to throw things away.
“Studio-sweepings” — reusing old art, or even taking the crud off the studio floor — is part of Sheehan’s medium.
“I want the viewer to experience both the physical topography and the color intensity. I want to draw attention to the process, execution and importance of the medium itself,” he said. “Ultimately, it is important to me that each piece possess structural integrity, evidence of process, awareness of art history, and a sense of place, journey and time.”
When he’s not being Dad to his two kids, Sheehan is working on a series on Fingerprint Prints — looking at his own hands and scars as inspiration. “I’m looking at flaws in our own identities,” explained the colorblind cum laude graduate of Syracuse University’s BFA program. “I can’t see what you’re seeing.”
So how on earth does he keep all the colors in his artwork straight? “I read the tubes,” he said. That and he as a very dynamic 3-D pallet he works from that helps him organize his colors.
Next up? This Salisbury native is getting ready to start on 10-by-17-foot paintings. Where exactly they’re going to fit in the modest gallery…. not sure, but it’ll be worth it.

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