Michael O’Briant grew up in Asheboro, North Carolina. He received his BFA from East Carolina University and his MFA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He lives in Chicago where he is represented by Thomas Masters Gallery. He is also represented at Jack Meier Gallery in Houston, Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown, MA, and Jessup Cellars Gallery in Yountville, CA.
This current popular phrase used by Gen X’ers and Millennials to describe a new love life paradigm on social media is the phrase most likely used by outside observers to describe my last 7 years of creativity. Gold leaf, bubbles, abstraction, landscapes and figurative pop stylings run amok in what must look like an out of control pendulum of discovery and stylistic makeovers. However, look more closely and it’s clear these series are strong lateral moves that are in no way confusing, but are stages in a rather intuitive evolution. My natural curiosity and artistic muse-following have clear origins in the earlier work, and inspire and develop naturally into the next series.
I am constantly working and creating directly on the canvas and feel my innate knowledge of my physical work has recently surpassed my intellectual capacity to describe every step. Nature, as always, plays a huge influence in my vision, perhaps more literally now than before, but I am working from memory and intuition, as opposed to photographs or plein aire. Texture, line and composition play equally with loose color fields and soft S-curves. The new abstracts and abstract landscapes are, I’m sure, one more bridge to my next series.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST MICHAEL O’BRIANT (2013)
Describe this new work and its origins.
I began focusing on nature and abstractions of natural themes four or five years ago. More recently, I began painting abstract forest scenes from my imagination. At the same time, I had been admiring the use of gold leaf and gold paint — from medieval chapel ceilings, illuminated manuscripts and even more contemporary work. But it was always used sparingly, as an accent, and I wanted to use the gold in a bolder way than that… making it the subject of the painting. Its reflective qualities – the way it glows, its warmth – it’s almost like a bonfire or a fireplace. It can bring back childhood memories of warmth, sitting around the fireplace with your family, having a bonfire with friends. And I love the way these paintings change throughout the day, along with the light of the room. The way it looks in the morning, with sunlight streaming through a window… the way it changes when the lights are switched on. My favorite surprise is when you turn the lights down… and suddenly the painting takes on an entirely new quality – as the gold reflects the remaining light, the foreground becomes the background and the background becomes the foreground. It’s a completely different painting.
Talk about the gold leaf.
I bought a gold leaf kit but had no intention of being confined by the instruction manual. I didn’t want it to be traditional. I wasn’t as concerned with the craft of gold leafing — I wanted to explore its possibilities as a medium. From my experimenting, I discovered I could tarnish and oxidize the surface in a very controlled way. I liked the destruction and decomposition of the shiny, perfect surface. Think about what gold symbolizes – money, power, wealth. The parallels to today’s economic struggles were impossible to miss. When I manipulated the gold’s surface, giving it layers and depth, I also felt the meanings of the paintings begin to grow and reveal themselves.
Where do the dots, lines and shapes in the paintings come from?
It started as merely organic mark-making – total abstraction. But the more I did this, the more I began noticing the marks were reminiscent of animal and plant structures, as well as ancient patterns. I started looking at images of Maori tattoo art, ancient Irish symbols and even photographs from archaeological digs. I began seeking out these images as my marks were revealing rhythms that felt familiar in me.
You’re an artist in constant motion, always developing new ideas.
Where are you headed next?
The reaction to this work has been really positive. People are drawn to these paintings in a very deep and emotional way. I think that speaks to the warmth of the reflective light — and the abstracted ancient themes. I think we’re subconsciously drawn to nature and symbols. All of us feel a connection to primitive expressions of humanity. I’m still in the midst of exploring all of this, discovering new possibilities. Right now, I’m thinking about working in an even larger scale… and perhaps diptychs and triptychs.
- ArtCrush 2016, Aspen Art Museum, 2016
- Solo exhibition, April 2014, Thomas Masters Gallery, Chicago.
- 20th anniversary group exhibition, March 2014, Thomas Masters Gallery, Chicago
- Solo exhibition, December 2013, University Club of Chicago
- Group exhibition, October 2013, Platform Studios, Chicago
- Solo exhibition, “Fermentation Series”, October 2013, Jessup Cellars Gallery, Yountville, CA
- Group exhibition, October 2012, Platform Studios, Chicago
- Solo exhibition, May 2012, Thomas Masters Gallery, Chicago
- Jessup Cellars Gallery group exhibition, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, February 2012, Jessup Cellars, Yountville, CA
- Solo Exhibit, April 2012, Thomas Masters Gallery, Chicago, IL
- Group Show, April 2011, Artropolis, Art Chicago, Chicago IL
- Solo Exhibit, March 2011, Thomas Masters Gallery, Chicago, IL
- Group Exhibit, April 2010, Artropolis, Art Chicago, Chicago IL
- Group Exhibit, January 2010, Alinea Restaurant, Chicago IL
- Article and Photos, September 2009, ArtScope magazine
- Solo Exhibit, August 2009, Ernden Gallery, Provincetown MA
- Group Exhibit, July 2009, Ernden Gallery, Provincetown MA
- Group Exhibit, June 2009, Tojo Gallery, Chicago, IL
- Group Exhibit, April 2009, Artroplis, Art Chicago, Chicago IL
- Solo Exhibit, September 2008, Thomas Masters Galery, Chicago, IL
- Group Show, March 2008, Thomas Masters Galery, Chicago, IL
- Artist in Residence, 2006 – 2011, Tojo Gallery, Chicago, IL
- Group Show, October 2007, The Galaxie, Chicago, IL
- Members Exhibit, Summer 2007, Provincetown Art Association Museum, Provincetown, MA
- Group Show, March 2007, Tojo Gallery, Chicago, IL
- Solo Exhibit (20th Anniversary Gala), October 2006 – January 2007, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
- Solo Exhibit, September 2006, April and George Gallery, Raleigh, NC
- Group Exhibit, Summer 2006, Nash Arts Center, Nashville, NC
- Group Show, Summer 2005, The Provincetown Art Association Museum, Provincetown, MA
- Solo Exhibit, April – June 2005, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
- Solo Exhibit, January – April, 2005, Hyde Park Art Center Loop Gallery, Chicago, IL
- Solo Exhibit, Studio Show, April 2004
- Group Show, November 2003
- Solo Exhibit, Summer 2002, The Art Girls, Chicago, IL
- Solo Exhibit, Summer 2002, Bistro by the Sea, Morehead City, NC
- 2000-2001, Room Mural for Private Residence, Raleigh, NC & Chicago, IL
- 1999-2003, Exhibited at Witts Restaurant, Chicago, IL
- 1997, Completed 6′ x 40 wall mural, Great Dane Restaurant, Madison, WI
- 1996-7, 9’ x 35′ wall mural, Private Residence, Madison, WI
- 1996, Graduate Thesis Show, University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Represented in private collections (Chicago, IL; Raleigh, NC; New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Aspen, CO; Montecito, CA; San Francisco, CA; Ithaca, NY; Truro, MA; Fulbeck, U.K., Berlin, Germany)