David O'Brien - On Closer Inspection February 14 2017

David O'Brien is a Melbourne artist who has exhibited paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints, with his work increasingly focussed on oil painting. David touches on various themes in his work, exploring light and also looking at the juxtaposition of the natural world and human reality.

Lions, polar bears and grizzly bears are depicted resting on televisions and gaming machines for his exhibition in 2014 'Collect & Display' which looked at the idea of treating animals as decorative objects. David says of the work, "An uncaged wild animal in a human environment looks pretty powerful." 

For his upcoming show at Outré Gallery David will be presenting cigar box paintings and sculptures which will interconnect within in the space. One of the works is called 'Broken', it is a painting, in a cigar box which is of a Polar bear staring down at a shattered vase. David says, "Polar bears are one of the most powerful and ferocious animals on earth but they're also becoming a symbol of fragility and vulnerability." 

We caught up with David before the exhibition opening at Outré Gallery on Friday 17 February from 6pm, to further understand his work and the process behind it.


Known for your detailed oil paintings, how would you describe what your work is about?

Well the work in this show is definitely detailed but I'm actually trying to loosen up! My work is pretty varied but I've always tried to have an idea behind my work. A lot of it is about memory and feelings. I often employ humour in my work but some people find it quite dark.

How did you come to become a painter, talk us through how you got to where you are now artistically.

I originally trained as a graphic designer and later worked as an art director but I found myself drawing and illustrating in my spare time. I suppose I wasn't getting enough creative opportunities at work. I started doing some freelance illustration jobs and then bought myself some oil paints and began experimenting. The first exhibition I ever entered was the Linden Postcard Show and my work got printed and I was approached by a commercial gallery and suddenly I was a painter.


Charmer, 2014 - Oil on Canvas

There are a lot of leafy plants and succulents in paintings on your instagram lately - what role does the natural environment around you play in your work?

I've always loved painting light and nature shows it off best of all in endless variety. I've always painted plants and trees as settings for my figures or some sort of narrative but lately I've dropped the figures and just let the plants take over.

In a few of your artworks you have painted gorilla’s sitting on man made things like chairs, televisions or gaming machines, is there a relationship you are investigating with the pairing of these objects?

A few years ago I had a show called 'Collect & Display' which looked at the idea of treating animals as decorative objects.  I used the museum collection as reference and painted taxidermied animals and skeletons  - some of them in interiors. I later started doing some small paintings of live animals in interiors or on furniture. An uncaged wild animal in a human environment looks pretty powerful. I've returned to this theme for some of the paintings in this show. Some are quite humorous but there is a bit of menace in there as well.

Conceptually speaking, are there certain themes you explore through your work?

I like to let the work start to flow and see which direction it takes. I can be pretty daunting coming up with a strict theme and having to produce a whole body of work. Sometimes I'll do a series of paintings that all relate and then I'll need some relief and do something completely different. I've always enjoyed producing work that works on more than one level. As I've said before, people read different things into the work. I think the lighting has a lot to do with it. There are also a lot of environmental references, particularly the animal paintings.

Over the years, what has been your biggest catalyst to create art? 

It's something I've always done. As a kid I used to study every square inch of MAD magazine and I always played around with cartooning and illustration. I can remember seeing a Rauschenberg painting at the NGV where he'd collaged an old MAD cover into it . That was pretty exciting to me although I was a bit horrified that he'd wrecked the magazine. My interests are pretty broad when it comes to art. I love the work of Chris Ware and Lucian Freud equally!

You will be exhibiting at Outre Gallery on the 17 February  - could you explain the artworks which you will be showing?

Well, as it's a Small Wall Project I've produced lots of small work! There will be quite a few of my cigar box paintings but I've also done some sculptures and I'm planning to display them so that everything interconnects. There is a bit of variety but I'm hoping that it will all work together. 

Could you go into a bit more detail about one specific artwork?

The cigar box painting of the polar bear staring down at the shattered vase is titled Broken. Polar bears are some of the most powerful and ferocious animals on earth but they're also becoming a symbol of fragility and vulnerability.