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A Master’s Perspective

Fr. Sullivan Exhibit, 2018

Fr. Sullivan Exhibit, 2018

The Art and Life of Gerald Sullivan S.J.
October 1 - December 21

This posthumous exhibit of Father Sullivan’s work is curated by Professor Kelly Detweiler, Department of Art and Art History, Santa Clara University.

Fr. Gerald Patrick Sullivan, 78, died May 15, 2010 in Regis Infirmary, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos. He was a Jesuit for 60 years, a priest for 41.

Gerry was born in Sacramento on July 26, 1931. He was raised in San Francisco until the age of six when the family moved to Redwood City. He attended Bellarmine College Preparatory, San Jose, and, influenced by teachers such as Roland Dodd and Thomas Byrne, he began to consider a vocation to the Society. He entered the novitiate at Los Gatos on August 14, 1949.

After receiving his BA and MA in philosophy at Gonzaga University, Gerry taught chemistry and mathematics at St. Ignatius College Preparatory, San Francisco, 1956-58 and chemistry at Brophy College Preparatory, Phoenix, 1958-59. Theology studies were made at Alma College, Los Gatos, 1959-63, and he was ordained a priest on June 8, 1962.

Upon completion of his studies, he returned to Brophy, where he taught art appreciation and religion, 1964-67. He then joined the Religious Studies department at Santa Clara as lecturer, 1967-68.

Gerry came from a family of artists but assumed that, as a Jesuit, art could be no more than a hobby. He was delighted to find out that he could pursue his interests on a professional level. He had studied art at San Francisco State University during summers and wanted to complete a degree program. Upon the recommendation of Philip Schuyler, Art Department Chair at Santa Clara University, Gerry was accepted at the highly selective Art Students League of New York, where he studied under William Barnet and Robert Beverly Hale. In 1971 Gerry received his M.F.A. and returned to Santa Clara as a member of the Art and Art History department. He served as department chair, 1974-80 and retired as senior lecturer in 2009.

Gerry worked in a variety of media, including oil, acrylic, and watercolor. He exhibited his work in a number of individual and group shows at the de Saisset Museum, the Triton Museum, and other venues. Among his work is the 8 x 24 foot acrylic on canvas mural, The Valley Now and Then, depicting the history of the Santa Clara Valley. Commissioned by the Irvine Foundation in 1996, it now hangs in the learning commons. He also designed and executed the ceramic decorations for the St. Clare Chapel and Mausoleum at Santa Clara Mission Cemetery.

This exhibit was organized in conjunction with the release of a book about Gerald Sullivan's art and life at Santa Clara University. Having worked with him for almost thirty years I recognized in him a special presence which showed itself often in his art. In the eighties, he made the leap from formal figure painting to using his entire intellect and sense of humor in his work. He was a very educated man who could draw upon the breadth of the humanities for subject matter. His work amazed his colleagues and those who encountered it, but in retrospect that was not enough. I feel like he is an undiscovered treasure of the Bay Area whose work was seen far too infrequently and by far too few. In reading through his papers, it is clear that he only had one local opportunity (Triton Museum, 1991) to have a solo exhibit of his work. I am very pleased to be able to put this exhibit together so that at least a few more people will have the occasion to experience his intellect, talent and humor. It is unfortunate that his first solo exhibit happens post mortem, but in my opinion, it's never too late to show this amazing body of work. As he told a class one day while he was teaching, "Don't come in for the next class because I will be getting an autopsy, but I'll be back next week." He was actually just getting an angioplasty but even in that situation he found room for humor.

Kelly Detweiler

Oct 8, 2018


The gallery space is on the third floor of the learning commons, next to the Archives & Special Collections Reading Room. Exhibit hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily when the learning commons is open.