While the rest of us were throwing wads of plastic beads into the air at Fantasy Fest, Sean Callahan was a whirlwind of industry renovating his charming new space on the corner of Whitehead and Julia. Dog Tired Studio & Gallery opened for business at the beginning of November.

Despite all the work that had to be done Callahan didn’t miss out on the Fantasy Fest(ivities) altogether. One of his watercolors was the iconic image for this year’s Headdress Ball and he made a guest appearance at the gala event where the original painting was auctioned off for $1,300.

The distinctly recognizable artist did a turn on the catwalk stage in his signature steam-punk top hat and spectacles.

Callahan is a popular figure in town and a ubiquitous presence at signature art events. He loves art and artists and talking about the artistic process. You might have seen him. He’s a jovial guy with a handsome beard and a twinkle in his eye that betrays his Irish roots.

I met Key West’s newest artist-curator-gallerist at his space. He’s a busy man, always active on the local art scene, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to see him rushing up to meet me covered in chalk dust. He was participating in the Key West Chalk Fest but he had slipped away to talk about his goals for Dog Tired and his trajectory from the chilly northeast to here.

Callahan has lived in Key West for seven years and he is philosophical about the way in which the island became home.

“Sometimes a place picks you,” he says. “You don’t pick a place. The island accepts you or rejects you. And for me Key West just felt right.”

It’s clear the island accepted him right from the start. In 2007 Callahan had a gallery and a farm and a relationship up in Vermont. “It was a comfortable life,” he says, and one that could and would have continued. But the financial crisis happened and this presented him with an opportunity to recognize the writing on the wall and make a change.

“In order to grow I need to leave.” He says.

And so he did. Callahan sold his gallery, gave up his farm, ended his relationship and came to Key West, initially for a month. But as soon as he arrived he was consumed with an unstoppable burst of creativity that is still evident today. In that time he made work and he made friends, he taught numerous popular watercolor workshops and he built a reputation that got people’s attention, including investors in Dog Tired Studio & Gallery who believe in Callahan’s ability and vision.

“Up until now I have only had to talk about my work and my process. Now I get to showcase and discuss artists whose work I have enjoyed over the years.” Callahan tells me with sincere anticipation.

The consequences of the financial crisis isn’t the first time external circumstances have propelled this the youngest of 10 children out of one life and into another. Callahan ‘s father was a businessman and it was expected that all of his children would follow in his footsteps. Each of them did, including Callahan who was a regional manager for a nationwide corporation until he was 26 when he learned that he was HIV positive.

This was during the AIDS crisis era when the prognosis was not good. Callahan is clear about the wake-up call. “Being told that you only have five years left scares the crap out of you, but it makes you focus and consider the time you’ve got left.”

Callahan decided that being an artist was what he wanted to do with his life. His life in business ended and his life as an artist began. And, thanks to advances in medicine, his life was not cut short after all.

Dog Tired Studio & Gallery has two special events planned for the holidays. Both gallery artist Chris Lopez and Callahan are offering discounts on personalized people (Lopez) and pet (Callahan) portraits. Then in February the gallery kicks off a series of solo shows with an exhibition of new photographs by February George Petropoulos.

Too see the Dog Tired Gallery, or visit with Sean, stop by the studio at 1011 Whitehead Street in Key West (corner of Whitehead and Julia streets). On Friday, Dec. 5, there will be a special open house from 6 to 9 p.m. during the First Friday Lower Duval Stroll. For more information, visit dogtiredstudio.net.

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