Gary Sweeney, a San Antonio-based artist, presents a collaborative project that challenges the Eurocentric standards of beauty promoted by the Famous Artists School, a correspondence course popular in the 1960s.
“In this series of collaborations, I partnered with three outstanding San Antonio artists: Indigenous artist Joe Harjo, Asian artist Hiromi Stringer, and African American artist Kaldric Dow. In 1965, my parents signed me up for the Famous Artists School, a correspondence course made popular by the ‘Draw Me’ advertisements found in most magazines in America. It was a legitimate school, with famous artists and illustrators giving out assignments and offering critiques of the student work that was turned in. The course featured three large binders that contained the lessons, and I’ve kept the books for fifty-six years.
“As I was recently revisiting the School’s textbooks, I was stunned by the chapters involving portraits, both in fine arts and in popular advertising. The Famous Artists School made it no secret that the white race was the very ideal of beauty.
“The collaborations I’ve submitted are a humorous response to the blatant racism of the times. Kaldric, Hiromi, and Joe were enthusiastically on board with the project. They shared the same startled reaction to the Artists School, and we hope to expand the current dialogue around cultural equality with these drawings.”
Gary 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 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.
Sweeney moved to Denver in 1982, where he became an active member of the local alternative art scene. Shortly after, his art began focusing on personal experiences, especially the frequent family vacations of his youth during which he took hundreds of snapshots of family and tourist destinations. These images from family albums later found their way onto large hand-tinted maps, billboards, and, in one project, the exterior of his family home.
Sweeney’s humor is especially apparent in his public artwork scattered throughout the U.S., most notably at Denver International Airport, San Antonio International Airport, the Green in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Esplanade on Navigation in Houston. He lives and works in San Antonio, Texas.