Sean Mahan – A Single Tone

Solo Exhibition
Fitzroy Gallery
25 March – 16 April 2022

This new series of paintings entitled A Single Tone by Sean Mahan explore our relationship with sound. Thoreau wrote, “music is perpetual, only the hearing is intermittent.” Our relationship with music extends backward through the timeline of life and is something fundamental that we share with a large portion of the natural world. Cicadas are classified by their complex and varied calls. Certain birds teach unique songs to their young and change their songs to inhabit empty space within the frequency range of the environment around them. Even types of butterflies and moths have complex relationships with their circadian rhythms.

Another idea examined in the paintings is our relationship with tempo. As time stretches, and objects loose their utility, they can often increase in beauty. Sometimes even an object’s obsolete function can take on a new kind of beauty. For example, the less we need a tape recorder to capture sound, the more that it can intrigues us with its unique sound. In a similar way, this appears to happen in the natural world as well. When selective pressures are relaxed, art appears to blossom. For example the Bengalese Finch, who was bred for the color of its feathers, has a song that is variable, improvised, and beautiful. Its song wasn’t always beautiful though. As its original rigid instinctive song became less necessary for its survival in captivity, it became less tied to instinct and became more varied and beautiful, slowly over generations. Each painting features an instrument and a counterpart from the natural world in order to illustrate the idea that within a single tone, there exists a microcosm of the aesthetic experience.

Read our interview with Sean from 2020 to learn more about his art practice.