The chain Walmart evokes many thoughts, ranging from Internet memes, to labor disputes, to its being a symbol of corporate America. Nevertheless, artist Brendan O'Connell has turned the mundanity of one-stop shopping into poignant, colorful paintings.
(Photo by Essdras M. Suarez/Globe Staff)
The initial steps that led to the Walmart series, surprisingly, took place overseas. "At twenty-two, I was living in Paris, teaching languages, and writing a novel about a group of painters," O'Connell exposits. Inspired by those he was studying, he decided to teach himself to draw. Six months after he began his self-taught journey, O'Connell was working full-time as a visual artist. In the summer months, he made money by painting portraits in Paris. When he returned home to the United States, he knew he wanted to do more of the same-- but in a distinctly "Americana" fashion.
"I noticed that Walmarts were dotting the American landscape," O'Connell explains. "And that there was a long tradition of American painters who cut their teeth in Europe, and came back to paint America." There are few things more "American," for good or for ill, than Walmart. So, O'Connell decided he would create paintings based on photographs he took of everyday shoppers. In France, the Post impressionists painted the main shopping thoroughfares of Paris. O'Connell realized that America's equivalent to Paris's commercial boulevards were the superstore's endless aisles.
Describing his interest in this series as "aesthetic to sociological," he makes a point of playing with abstract patterns, as well as often playing with the brands of actual products. While O'Connell is not quite sure if he would call the paintings a "pop-culture series," working on them makes him dream up various pop-culture scenarios. He sometimes imagines himself wandering through stores, in a Henry Darger meets Andy Warhol sort of fashion. "I don't know," he laughs. "I think I'd really like to set up in a few stores, under the strange neon lights, and to paint a bit alla prima."
As Walmart is both a popular and a polarizing entity, these paintings have struck a cord. O'Connell believes that Walmart is one of the only places where shoppers of dramatically different incomes all consume in the same space. From a sociological standpoint, this explains why such a variety of people relate to these works. In fact, one of O'Connell's best-known proponents is the film and television actor, Alec Baldwin. The two met in 1995 when O'Connell was still a Parisian street artist. Baldwin purchased some paintings and kept in touch. "When I began the Walmart series, Alec and I started talking about what it meant," he reflects. The conversation became so detailed, O'Connell ultimately uploaded it to his website. A key point is that the paintings bridge the gap between "high" and "low" art. The works themselves are fine art, yet, the subject matter is far from a typically classic still-life.
Brendan with actors Alec Baldwin (left) and Josh Charles (right).
"Half of the people who buy the Walmart series are 'serious collectors,' spending six figures a year on art. The other half are first-time buyers of contemporary art-- I love that," O'Connell smiles. He has shown in Toronto, Shanghai, New York, and Boston, and sold in Europe. Walmart itself has even come to appreciate the paintings. "I was originally the guy who was 'invited to leave,' (for taking photographs)," he recalls. "But, in their fifty year history as a corporation, Walmart has officially bought one painting of mine, of their original store in Arkansas." Interestingly, O'Connell does not actually create his works to comment on the chain. Rather, his artistic statement is about America overall, contemporary culture, and the relationships people have to "stuff" and brands.
While O'Connell loves creating his own works, it's also very important to him that young artists get a chance. The Everyartist.me organization, which he helped found, aims to help children find their own creativity. The Rubin Foundation of New York City gave O'Connell a grant to start a pilot program towards starting a "National Art Day." The initial day was a success, where Everyartist.me worked alongside the Walmart Visitor's Center and the Bentonville, Arkansas, school district. The day included a digital and real-world art event, where over 8,000 students gathered to create on the football field of the local high-school. In 2013, the organization's goal is to have it literally be a national art day, where thousands upon thousands of children will have the chance to participate.
In the future, O'Connell wants to see "where the brush leads" him. In February 2013, the Everyartist.me project will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the aforementioned National Art Day. A commercial for the project was already shot with Titus Welliver, and Alec Baldwin is scheduled to tweet about it. O'Connell is hopeful that this will do a good job of spreading the word. "We want to raise as much money as possible," he beams. "It would be wonderful to make it the largest community art event in history."
To contact Brendan O'Connell, please email EveryArtistStudio@gmail.com, or call 917-860-7441.
To see the artist's portfolio, please go to: www.BrendanOConnell.com
To learn more about Everyartist.me, please go to: www.EveryArtist.me
Jill Lear: The Tree of Art
Jill Lear is an artist who describes her work as a "an attempt to distill the experience of being in a particular place, using a mixture of marks and connections that move from point to point." In fact, her re-creations of nature are so accurate, that each of her tree paintings is titled with the exact latitude and longitude of the real tree it is based on. "If you Google those coordinates, you're brought exactly to where that place was," Lear smiles. She travels all over the United States and Europe to find a variety of interesting trees.
Lear actually began her artistic career in the fashion world. After studying in France with the traditional school of Haute Couture (where designers train by creating works for Chanel and Dior), she realized that she was looking for something else. Luckily, she found her passion upon returning to the states and discovering the New York Studio School.
"The first two weeks of every semester consists of a drawing marathon which sets the pace for the semester," Lear explains. "The rigorousness and the formality were great training." This marathon is aptly named, as students spend those five days drawing from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM to create large scale perception drawings. Jill then moved to ORcas ISland where she developed her unique tree project. Since then, she has been creating these works using mostly a combination of egg tempera, watercolor, and charcoal.
"Although I'm a colorist, I actually love the underlying structure of trees - winter is my favorite time of year," Lear muses. The subject matter also fascinates her, as she is very interested in the idea of capturing proportions. Right after completing school, Lear moved to Washington State's San Juan islands to immerse herself in the inspiration of old deciduous trees. Immersion is important to Lear, particularly as someone inspired by the work of Cezanne. "Cezanne spent more time looking than making marks on the canvas" Lear notes. "I really appreciate that he'd stare at a moment, and then make one mark on the page."
While in many ways Lear's work is classic, she still finds it intriguing to be an artist in the digital age. She is undecided as to if the advent of the Internet has helped advance artists' careers, yet, she believes it's wonderful for morale. "Art registries, blogs, Pinterest, and websites such as 'The Jealous Curator' have definitely helped artists control where their work gets seen," Lear elaborates. "The Internet allows you to reach people who would have otherwise never seen your work."
It's noteworthy that Lear's step-father is also a famous artist: film and voice-over actor Adam West. While West is famous largely for his work in the 1960's live-action "Batman" television program, and for his current self-parodying gig on "Family Guy," few people are aware that he is also a painter. "My step-dad is the funniest person I know-- he works very hard, even now, with voice-overs, appearances, and movies, when he doesn't still have to be working," she laughs. Lear and West have very different approaches to their visual artwork. While she is largely a self-described formalist, he is a painter who specializes in caricatures. Most of the time, they are characters from the "Batman" films, such as the Joker. Despite their stylistic differences, Lear admires how freely West paints, and aims to be more spontaneous in her own work because of it.
Lear's next show will open on January 17th, at the Shoal Creek Gallery in Austin Texas. She will be showing all new work alongside fellow artist Katie Maratta. In addition to her famed tree work, as well as some paintings on canvas, Lear is also going to debut some entirely new pieces. "I'm introducing some of my photographs," she reveals. "I've taken thousands of photos of trees for reference. Many people have requested to see them, so part of this show includes a black and white installation of those pictures." She enthusiastically adds that she is excited to be showing alongside Maratta: "Her work is the opposite of mine, as she creates tiny and panoramic pencil drawings of landscapes in Texas. I think our pieces are really going to work well together."
The saying "less is more" definitely applies to the delicate beauty of Lear's work, and it's a concept she intends to keep experimenting with. Her tree works are focused on specificity, measurements, and proportions. She also wants to focus on what she calls her "territory paintings," which are exact in a different way. "Those works are all about the sound, the light, and the wind-- what it feels like to be somewhere," Lear elaborates. "The tree paintings are about an actual place and space, while the territory paintings are about the idea of a place and space." Whether it's an exact coordinate or an emotion, Lear's goal is to continually distill experiences for her viewers.
- Donna Letterese
To view more of Jill Lear's work, visit www.JillLear.com
Salvatore Pecoraro: An Artist's Journey
By Donna Letterese
Some artists have visions of becoming the next Van Gogh from the moment they hold a brush. Others become fine artists, only after having traveled on a path they didn't realize would take them there. Salvatore Pecoraro, the son of a barber, never imagined he would be an exhibiting contemporary artist. He attended The California College of Arts and Crafts on a scholarship, studying under the likes of Richard Diebenkorn. Pecoraro initially had an interest in commercial art, but after a year he realized that was not for him and transferred into the teaching program.
Artist Salvatore Pecoraro in front of his "365 Skies 1970" painting series at the de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University in 1974.
Upon graduation, he jumped right into his field and started teaching high school in 1957 at the age of 21. While he loved it, he also knew he was a creator at heart. While teaching high school, Pecoraro returned to the classroom as a student, emerging with Masters of Art in printmaking from San Francisco State University. "At that point I wanted to have the opportunity to teach at the college level, so I went back to school." Pecoraro then worked at De Anza Junior College in Cupertino from 1968 until retiring 2001.
In addition to his teaching high school, he also showed regularly at festivals throughout Northern California. Frequently, he was awarded blue ribbons. Yet, he did not love the format of art fairs, where patrons walk around to booths and speak directly to artists--often, with pressing questions. A friend suggested Pecoraro seek gallery representation to assist with exposing his work. In 1967, Pecoraro's notoriety helped him land an initial gallery show in San Francisco, as well as an exhibition at the Richmond Art Center. From that point on, he never stopped showing and his works were exhibited in Galleries all over the United States including Chicago, Aspen and Los Angeles.
Pecoraro has drawn inspiration from many sources throughout his life. Other artists have been one source. Instructors during art school were another. Yet, the literal world around him inspired his most famed paintings. "The main cultural thing that influenced me was the consciousness of the environment during the 60's and 70's." Pecoraro muses. "This was the foundation of my sky paintings and the beginning of my most ambitious body of work titled the 365 Skies 1970."
Pecoraro's work evolved towards this famed series, from the work he had been doing in the 1960's. Then, he had been painting abstract clouds, rainbows without gradation, and women's' faces that were semi-realistic. Interestingly, he had been painting with a toothbrush. One critic claimed that these photo-like paintings were beautifully painted with an airbrush. This prompted Pecoraro to buy an actual airbrush, whereupon he began painting with it and ended up preferring this method for most of his work.
Artist Salvatore Pecoraro's "Lips" from the Second Encore painting series
One thing led to another, and ultimately, he was creating the "365 Skies 1970." As the name suggests, this series was made up of 365 acrylic paintings. Each painting was created on a one foot square panel crafted from vacuumed-formed styrene. Pecoraro took a photo of the California sky, always at a different time and place, every day of the year in 1970. Those photos became reference for the paintings he did on each panel. When arranged from January to December 1970, each panel painting shows a different sky for every day of that year. An enormous project, literally and figuratively, it measures seven feet tall and fifty-two feet wide. Unsurprisingly, many galleries were eager to show the "365 Skies Series." The only place to show the entire series on a single wall was the La Jolla Museum of Art. It was also displayed at several museums and galleries including the Oakland Museum of Art, Occidental College and Esther Robles Gallery in Los Angeles.
The "First Encore" series, begun in 2001, is another large painting series of Pecoraro's. It is made up of more than a hundred one-foot square acrylic and mixed-media paintings on raised wooden panels. His current work, called the "Second Encore" is comprised of 18 paintings and is a continuation of the "First Encore" series with more complexity and larger sizes. This ties into his present main focus: preparing for the solo show of his work, "Now and Then: a Journey with an Edge," to be exhibited at Santa Clara's Triton Museum in July and August 2013. The show will be viewed as a chronological time line, reading left to right. While Pecoraro states that the focus is being put on his most current works, the goal is also to share pieces from "then," his work from years ago.
There is timelessness to Pecoraro's work. Despite the advent of things like photos shop and iPhone photography, the kinds of paintings Pecoraro creates can instill awe in any viewer-- whether that means a gallery goer from 1970, or someone today. As for his part, the artist has always aimed to improve his work from series to series. "Does the work look contemporary in terms of what's happening right now?" Pecoraro asks. "I leave that decision up to other people. I was very lucky in life because I was always able to be an artist."
For more information on Salvatore Pecoraro, please go to http://www.SalvatorePecoraro.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Salvatore-Pecoraro-Contemporary-Painting-and-Sculpture/143735332325450.
To contact the artist, please go to:
Lions of Iran
Lions of Iran: Dimensions 12' wide 6'8" high. Acrylic on canvas. Painted in 2007.
This painting illustrates the start of the Iranian civilization from Mithraism to Zoroastrianism, the rise of Cyrus the great and all famous poet such as Omar Khayam, Hafez, Saadi, Rumi, Ferdowsi and etc. This painting also demonstrates all mythical heroes of the Shahnameh "Book of Kings" and all real Heroes of Iran who played a major role in the development and success of Iran. However, the background of this Painting is mostly red because of the many human sacrifices that were made for the motherland and in the lower portion you will recognize the young students who were murdered in the green movement.
Davood Roostaei drew the realities of Iran's political history and he masterly connected Persian mythology with Persian history.
Leah Devora & The Art of Pop Culture
Writers tell stories with words, filmmakers use moving images, and painters use a canvas. Leah Devora, a self-described mixed-media pop artist, tells stories about current affairs. She casts today's political figures as the stars of her paintings. "My artwork involves layering political narratives, and chaos," Devora notes. "Yet, it's positive to be able to create art from that chaos."
Upon earning her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Devora initially focused on textile fashions. She ran her own handmade clothing company for eight years, later switching gears into fine art. At Brooklyn's Pratt University, where she earned an MFA in painting, she was greatly affected by a variety of artists. "Ed Kienholz, a pop sculpture artist, is an all time favorite," Devora beams. "So are the Spanish master painters, such as Dali." Her training and various influences ultimately came together to help inspire her present works.
Today, Devora uses digital and traditional mediums. She employs sound, lighting, and non-traditional, multi-media elements in her digital work. Of her painting techniques, Devora states that she is very much a 3D sculpture artist. "What I do is called assemblage," she explains. "Substances such as roofing cement and magnum rock are sculpted into the paintings." Notably, the paintings in her series, "Rockstar," have just as many layers in their sculpture, as they do in their meanings.
"Rockstar," which began four years ago, was created to comment on the political climate of the United States. Devora felt that few artists were making true political commentary, driving her to make her own statement in juxtaposition. "I wanted to do more than just say, 'Oh! Here's Obama. Isn't he great?'," she elaborates. "I researched additional historical things to include in these paintings of Obama and the administration."
While Devora aims to not have a personal point of view skew her work, creating these pieces is her way of still reflecting and being involved. As the title of her series might suggest, Devora believes that politics, pop culture, and art intersect frequently. In her work, she enjoys showing the negative and positive contradictions that are ever-present in today's issues. For example, one of her paintings depicts Obama being crushed by healthcare issues. The piece clearly shows who he is, at first. Yet, as time goes on, he gets buried alive by the various problems.
Devora also believes that politicians must present themselves as celebrities, just as much as they do government officials. When asked if she believes this is true of Obama, Devora responds: "I think people see him as a pop-icon. What president goes on John Stewart and David Letterman on a regular basis?" She then cites examples of how often the lines of celebrity and government cross: Arnold Schwarzenegger, famed mostly for his performances in action films, was elected the governor of California in 2004. Recently, actor Clint Eastwood was presented as a "surprise guest" at the Republican National Convention. Through her works, Devora comments on how it often seems as if the theatre of politics in Washington D.C. is as important a show as one put on by Hollywood itself.
In addition to her political pieces, Devora is currently working on a sound installation titled "Voices." The installation will feature pre-recorded, layered voices of men and women being interviewed, along with actual performance art. The idea for this project first came to her in 1998, from voicemail personal ads. "New York once had something called the Relationship Line. People would speak, and decide if they wanted to meet one another - often having great conversation, but sight unseen," Devora laughs. Now, with the advent of reading Twitter, Facebook, and texts, people almost never physically listen to one another any more. "Voices" seeks to have people listen, without being able to simply judge a visual.
To help fund "Voices," Devora launched her first IndieGogo campaign. While she has never used crowd-funding before, she is excited for the possibilities inherent in this new, popular method of getting the word out. Her plan is to use some of that money to fund her projects, and to donate the rest to charities she's involved with: the Los Angeles based Free Arts for Abused Children, and Aviva Family and Children's Services.
Devora is excited for the 2013 debut of "Voices." It will open on January 5th at the Papillon Art Institute (located in proximity to the Los Angeles Staples Center). "It's a beautiful, non-traditional, contemporary art space. Right now, I'm focused on preparing for 'Voices,'" she smiles. "I'll probably keep going with installations. As to my paintings, it depends on what happens in the White House over the next few years."
- Donna Letterese
To see Leah Devora's work and contact her, visit http://www.ldevora.com
To attend the opening reception of "Voices," and to find out more about the Papillon Art Institute, please visit the gallery at 1835 South Main Street, Los Angeles, CA, on the night of January 5th, 2013.
Mara Sfara: Telling Stories Through Sculpture
By: Lucas Swift
In the world of sculpture, Mara Sfara stands out as a unique artist. When approaching a mold, she doesn't try to shoehorn in statements about society or layer in preachy messages; she is only concerned with the ability of her work to evoke emotion.
Mara, whose art is featured at the Eckert Fine Art Gallery in Millerton New York, is no stranger to the world of fine art having presented her work across the states and even abroad, showcasing in such places as Spain and Argentina. Really, the whole spectrum of the arts seems to enthrall her. She graduated from the University of Rochester studying English and Film, taking on Fine Arts as the focus for her Masters. While painting became the main interest of her career, she has never forgotten fine literature or great movies and often allows their influence to bleed into her works and shape her style of thinking.
Yet Mara's recent exhibit was a bit of a departure for her. She returned to a medium from her past, sculpture, for the first time in twenty years and she is approaching it in an unconventional way. Mara has gone for an aesthetic that focuses on the emotional, the whimsical, and the expressive over the realistic. "I was looking around at a lot of the other work being done and I wanted to add a different perspective with my work," said Mara.
Wanting to break from the monotony, Mara made her statues fun and exaggerated. "Each is a spirited character with a charming twist," she explains, with the individual statues focusing on the expression a specific emotion that conveys the story of the various characters. Sometimes these sculptures take cutely surreal turns in order to do this, like the man with surprise painted over his face because his penis transformed into a fish. Other characters are actually based on the tales from ancient Greece that Mara read in college in another call back to her past.
However, Mara didn't pull from Greek myths because they are classic staples of the Western tradition but because they held something special for her. Mara doesn't think up convoluted meanings and then work backwards when sculpting. Instead she focuses on something pure, relatable, and universal; preferring to concern herself with the feelings of the everyday person and that sets her art apart, freedom from the pretense that too many artists fall victim to. "I see my sculptures as stories," she explains. "Each carries its own tale, like chapters in a novel."
Mara doesn't aim to lecture or depress her audience, only to give her audience something magical whether they use it to laugh, to forget, or just to simply feel. Because as she put it, "If I wanted to be depressed then I would just watch the news."
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