Brendan O’ Connell’s journey to becoming the influential artist he is today is like something out of a book. In fact it almost sounds like the one he was writing when his journey began. Back in the early 90’s, Brendan was a writer who had gone to Paris to write a novel about painters.
It might be a little telling of Brendan’s subconscious mind that he chose to write about that subject because in the midst of his research he decided that the best way to understand one of his characters was to learn to paint himself. But once he attempted that he was struck by a startling epiphany: he was surprisingly gifted painter. In pursuing one creative endeavor he discovered another more potent calling.
He immediately took action and chased this passion, working for the next six years (1991-1997) as a street artist in Europe. He visited museums to study the greats of post-impressionism, sold portraits in front of France’s architectural masterworks, and even had a few galleries of his works.
Rather quickly he expanded his skills and talents, so much so that he caught the eye of Alec Baldwin. Brendan was still selling his portraits on front of Notre Dame when Alec started buying his work and eventually became one of his major patrons. Yet, one of the truly game changing moments in Brendan’s career actually came after he returned to America. Having been abroad for most of the 90’s, Brendan was amazed by the changes that had taken place in the USA’s cultural landscape since he left, especially one in particular: Wal-Mart.
In his absence, Wal-Mart had grown into one of the largest corporate retail entities in America with stores dotting nearly every town across the country, replacing most smaller commercial outlets and shops. As Brendan puts it, Wal-Mart became “the most visited and curated architecture on the planet” and something about that fact caught his curiosity. You see in the post-impressionistic tradition a common subject matter for painters was the commercial boulevards of France, but at Wal-Mart most of those boulevards are now housed under the same roof, creating a communal space where most people gather to run their everyday errands. It was a modern connection between high and low art that Brendan felt compelled to capture on canvas.
Alec took interest in the project and even Susan Orlean, author of “The Orchid Thief”, plans on writing a profile for The New Yorker for Brendan because of it. And it is a subject of interest, given the artistic tradition he employs Brendan has a near infinite variety of colors, shapes, and patterns from which to create with to create some truly original fine art. Yet when working in a visual medium, seeing is believing, therefore you you can see Brendan’s work by following this link to his YouTube video for the project: http://bit.ly/everydaywalart or by visiting Brendan’s website at www.brendanoconnell.com.
Yet while “Everyday Wal-Mart” might be one of Brendan’s more famous works at the moment, it is by no means his biggest or most meaningful for him personally. That title is held by his current undertaking, the everyartist.me project. Its goal is a simple yet profound one, to spark the creativity of the next generation by founding a national art day where kids are taught how to draw.
Using seed money from the Rubin Foundation, Brendan has already done a test run of this event using 8,500 school children from Arkansas. Each kid was given the opportunity to interpret a communal theme however they wanted. The children were driven to a football field and placed their art alongside the drawings by everyone else involved in the experiment. All the drawings were laid side by side in the shape of the kid’s state of Arkansas. Finally, the entire project was uploaded to everyartist.me to be preserved online forever and helping the children to see how their creativity could contribute to something meaningful and huge.
After the success of the Arkansas test run, Brendan and the projects co-creators hope to take it to the next level and start a massive national event in 2013 that allows children from across the country to do the same. That is why from February 8 to March 11th, they will be hosting a KickStarter campaign to fund everyartist.me’s digital infrastructure to help make this dream a reality. The site will include an app that allows kids to upload their art to be projected together into large mural style drawings that give the kids, parents, and communities things to rally around. Help save the arts in for our children and the generations to come by following this link to the KickStarter: http://tinyurl.com/bya2cmy.
Much like Brendan discovered for himself in France, sometimes all a person needs to ignite a lifetime’s worth of imagination and inventiveness is a chance to try something that they never before thought that they could do. In an era that has been defined by it’s creative geniuses like Ai Weiwei and Steve Jobs, we cannot discount the importance of inspiring creativity in our children so that our future can continue to look bright.