In his forty-five years as an artist, Gary Sweeney has established a body of artwork that is “as diverse in its media and presentation as it is singular in its wit and intelligence.”
Sweeney was born into the fertile artistic climate of 1950s Southern California, and both his father and grandmother were artists. He graduated in 1975 with a degree in Fine Arts from UC Irvine, which was then a hotbed of Conceptualism and Post-minimalism. To support his art making, which includes photography, painting, and sculpting—resulting in a body of work ranging from neon signs, billboards, and murals to rug making, book art, and video—Sweeney took a job as a baggage handler for Continental Airlines, from which he recently retired after thirty-five years. This work provided steady income, insurance, and low-cost air travel.
When Sweeney transferred to Denver in 1982, he became an active member of the local alternative art scene. Shortly afterward, his art began focusing on personal experiences, especially on the frequent family vacations of his youth. During that time he took hundreds of snapshots of family and tourist destinations, which later found their way, appropriately captioned, onto large hand-tinted maps, or, greatly enlarged, onto billboards. He also pored over family photograph albums, from which he created one series of work about his father’s experiences as a police detective, and another about his parents’ vacations “before the kids came along.”
Sweeney’s most recent and ambitious project took place in February, 2015. After selling the family house in Manhattan Beach, Gary took occupancy of the empty building and covered the exterior with enlarged photos spanning the seventy years of Sweeney family history. The installation drew thousands of visitors, and was featured nationally and internationally in press and video. Gary’s humor is especially apparent in his public artwork scattered throughout the United States, most notably in Denver International Airport, San Antonio International Airport, The Green in Charlotte, North Carolina, and The Esplanade on Navigation in Houston, Texas. Though he and his wife now live in San Antonio, Texas, Gary maintains a solid Southern California sensibility in both his art and manner. He remains, as one critic put it, “one of those rare artists who possesses both the necessary skill to create stylish work and the wit and intelligence to give substance to it.”