Matt Sesow wasn't always a painter; he discovered his passion in 1994 while working at IBM, eventually leaving his career in computers to become a full-time artist in 2001. But by his estimates, he's sold more than 17,000 works, due to his emotional, joyful and in his words, "obsessive" painting.
"Life and Limb: Works by Matt Sesow" will be on display from Aug. 31 to Dec. 18 at the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries on Monarch Way at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. The show spans Sesow's career as a self-taught artist, featuring works inspired by friendship with Baron and Ellin Gordon, and his world travels and residencies, including a recent week spent in Norfolk.
Early works helped him deal with the personal trauma of losing his left arm at age 8 after being hit by the propeller of an airplane. He expanded to painting what inspires him, from "trauma icons" to friends' Instagram posts to war. The paintings, he said, help to calm his fears and nightmares from the accident.
Sesow and wife Dana Ellyn are both full-time painters living in Washington, D.C. While the show in the Gordon Galleries is a solo exhibition of Sesow's work, the two also did a collaborative three-day show and artist talk in August at Vibrant Shore Brewing in Virginia Beach, and a one-week residency in Norfolk in May, supported by the Rutter Art Foundation, the University's Real Estate Foundation, Arts@ODU, and the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries. During that time, Sesow walked the city for inspiration, then returned to a temporary studio space to create works for the upcoming show. Residencies are a technique Sesow has used to create in the past, finding inspiration while painting in Costa Rica, Spain, and California, among others.
"I pretty much get up in the morning, walk around and get inspired by maybe going to a market or seeing a newspaper," he said. "Painting takes a lot of time, and I've got to hit it when it's just right because I can't just turn on the good emotional stuff."
Sesow's work is also highly influenced by Jean-Michel Basquiat, the artist who rose to fame in the 1980s for bold and colorful works. A number of Basquiat's early works will be on display in the Galleries to complement "Life and Limb" and demonstrate influence.
Sesow has also incorporated a physical piece of Norfolk. Cullen Strawn, the University's executive director for the arts, procured and overnighted 13 pounds of coal from the Norfolk Southern Lambert's Point Yard, with the help of David Goode, retired chairman, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern Corporation. Sesow then ground the coal with a mortar and pestle to make paint used to create several works for the show. Ellyn has also incorporated the coal paint into her recent works.
"This is no ordinary exhibition, and it is on the other end of the spectrum from boring - you really need to stand in the space and see the writing, painting, and drawing all over the walls in addition to the works shown together, and hear some of the music Matt listens to in headphones while painting to understand just how impactful it is," Strawn said. "Matt has collectors around the world, and guests worldwide can visit the show by using our telepresence robot named Gordon."
In-person guests can interact with the Galleries' MagicBox to read illustrated love-story booklets by Sesow and see a timelapse video of him painting Louis Armstrong playing trumpet in honor of Norfolk's Attucks Theatre history. The MagicBox, new to the Gordon Galleries this year, is an interactive display case with a transparent touch screen allowing interaction with multimedia content.
The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries exhibit works by nationally and internationally recognized self-taught artists, contemporary artists working in all media, and local and regional artists connected with Old Dominion University. Free and open to the public, with parking in the 45th Street garage. Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on this exhibition and talks and events with Sesow, visit odu.edu/arts/galleries, follow the galleries at @gordonartgalleries on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, or call (757) 683-6271. More of Sesow's work is also available on sesow.com.