Brendan O’Connell on His Art & His New Project, Everyartist


This interview has been a long time coming. I have been wanting to interview professional artist Brendan O’Connell for years. O’Connell and I went to high school together–and thanks to social media, we got back in touch with each other back around 2007 or so. I have covered him here a few times at the blog. While most of this interview is focused on O’Connell’s work, O’Connell and I finally got together to talk because of his latest educational and artistic endeavor, Everyartist. O’Connell is one of the founding partners of Everyartist.

“In 2013, Everyartist will create a national, collaborative art event that engages elementary school children across the country – the largest art event in history. Our platform of events, digital content/tools and retail products empowers ArtTeachers, ArtMoms and ArtAngels to spark and sustain the creativity inside every ArtKid.”

In order to make this national, collaborative art event feasible, Everyartist will be launching a Kickstarter in the next few days. Once the Kickstarter is live, I will be sure to update this article, as well as make you aware of it, in a separate post. [February 9, 2013 Update: The Kickstarter is live]

My thanks to O’Connell for his time.

Tim O’Shea: You have made a few videos that you posted online discussing some of the thought process behind your Wal-Mart series. What prompted you to produce these? Do you think that to a certain extent technology in general and the Internet in particular has allowed you to expose your work to more people?

Brendan O’Connell: I had been doing black and white paintings based on Polaroids of people engaged in everyday activities: brushing their teeth, getting dressed etc. someone suggested I follow one model throughout the day, and that was how I came upon the first Walmart shoot. Recently I had a YouTube commercial made where I invited people to send me their pics from Walmart or SAMs club and if I did a painting based on their pic they would get a print.

As a creative person who lives a life less dictated by corporate America than some folks–has the struggling global economy impacted you more or less than your friends in non-creative careers?

We all have to survive and find a way to thrive no matter what is going on globally. In some ways during the greatest economic boom of the history of money I felt like I was on the sidelines …

You first embarked on your painting career after an aborted attempt at writing a novel. Have you ever revisited that first novel concept–and what kind of writing have you pursued in recent years?

I’ve written a few novels and screenplays but have recently channeled that side of my brain and personality into everyartist.me which is a team of really amazing people trying to spark next generation creativity.

When you do a series like the Apostles–when did you decide: “OK I’m done with that effort.”–or is there a chance you might revisit the Apostles series at some point down the road?

Most series are open ended. That one definitely. Lots of painters I might have or might still include.

In terms of your Walmart series, was the series an effort to capture an element of American life?

There is a long history of American painters who cut their artistic teeth in Europe and came back to paint America… After 7 years in Europe I came back and this was archetypal America

Is the Walmart series a finite project, or do you see yourself pursuing more paintings in that vein down the road?

I’ve always been eclectic, still do abstracts, still do portraits, but Walmart is a big envelope in which to stuff a bunch of different kinds of paintings

In the background info of your own website, it notes that your “work explores color as spiritual identity. … Influenced by the color theories of Rudolf Steiner and the order and simplicity of the Tao by Lao Tsu”. How did you first learn about Rudolf Steiner and would you say his theories still have a bearing on your work in the present day?

When I was castle-sitting for a rich British painter in the south of France, I came across Rudolf Steiner…I think I bastardized most of his concepts but I like the idea of thinking of colors as independent realities or even ideas… What if this emotion or idea that grips me now is a spirit that temporarily inhabits me? Hokey but fun

How much, if it all, did your view and approach on art change once you became a parent?

I was living in the middle of nowhere Connecticut and I had a barn filled with paintings and I was sort of trapped by my own idea of what an artist SHOULD do. Having kids gave me a kind of freedom, that if my kids were to inherit the burden of a barn full of stuff, they may as well think its cool stuff.

Your wife, Emily Buchanan,  is also an accomplished painter. Would you say that you two have influenced each other–or are your pursuits so vastly different that it’s not really feasible to say one has influenced the other?

I shamed her into working everyday and she shamed me into focusing on a single idea

Would it be safe to say that philosophical exploration has a major bearing on your work in general? If so, what philosophers or philosophy are you exploring at present?

I always liked the philosophies of life… Camus, Unamuno. Was much less interested in analytics as it made my head hurt. Doing anything in life is Sisyphean

Is there anything you’d like to discuss about your work that I neglected to ask?

We are going to launch a Kickstarter campaign for everyartist.me, which will become the most democratic global experience.

What can you tell me about the upcoming Kickstarter campaign for everyartist.me?

It costs about $25,000 to do an event like we did in Arkansas. The next one we do will be a record in collaborative performance art. We are raising money to build out our free app.

 

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