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Faces Places

Faculty member uses maps as canvases

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Many people view maps as simply a tool to go from point to point. Professor Sean Cassidy has found a different use.

To Mr. Cassidy, an adjunct in the Department of Art and Art History at Bridgewater State University, maps are the foundation for his oil paintings. 

About 30 of Mr. Cassidy’s paintings are on display on the second floor of the Bridgewater Public Library. Some are what he calls “mapscapes,” which are landscapes painted on top of maps. Others are portraits of a who’s who of famous civic leaders, athletes, actors and others. Mr. Cassidy paints the portraits on top of maps of each subject’s birthplace.

“I think the vast majority of us are drawn back home or at least talk about it and reminisce,” he said. “I think we’re related to our birthplaces. We have that bond with that.”

The mapscapes illustrate people’s connections to their surroundings.

A map background adds a new dimension to what might otherwise be just another painting of President George Washington or a Boston street. The paintings mix elements of abstract and figurative art. 

“It becomes more intriguing to the viewer and also draws in people to want to spend more time exploring the image,” he said.

Mr. Cassidy, who lives in Plymouth and is a member of the Copley Society of Art, came across the idea for his cartographic artwork by chance. While working on a thesis for his master’s at Central Michigan University, he saw a map hanging on a friend’s wall. 

“It was one of these epiphany moments,” he said. 

He bought an atlas and started experimenting. Now, he uses a computer to merge a digital map and the image he hopes to paint together and see what fits. Roads, for example, help define the face of a portrait. Then, he creates a high-end print of the map and paints the image on top. The work evolves as he determines the best blend between the map and subject.

“It’s this conversation between revealing and hiding things,” he said.

He hopes to bring his Bridgewater State students to the library exhibition, as he teaches them about the process of making art. It’s an evolution, he said.

“This is the culmination of everything I’ve done to this point,” he said.

But, it doesn’t mark a dead end in Mr. Cassidy’s artistic road.

“Everything I do is reaching for a higher rung on the ladder,” he said. “There are more rungs above you. To me, my ladder just keeps going.”

People looking to see Mr. Cassidy’s work should set their GPS to Bridgewater Public Library, 15 South St. Copies of his new book, Sean Cassidy: Paintings, A Retrospective , will be for sale at the closing reception from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 26. (Photos of Professor Cassidy by Brian Benson, University News)

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