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Joe O’Donnell - It Could Well Be Knitted

Words:

Edd Norval

Photos:

Joe O'Donnell
June 8, 2022

Joe O’Donnell’s paintings have the same aesthetic quality of those crochet boards that you’d expect to see at your gran’s house. They’re chunky, bold and irreverent. Except his are paintings and they’re actually really, really nice.

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In O’Donnell’s paintings, the shapes come across like small tiles a la Invader, or as pixels, removing any detail, whilst giving him scope to create works that draw upon a mixture of the instantly recognisable symbolism of everyday life combined with the opportunities of the human imagination to fill in any blanks - to round off the edges of an apple or construct a crisper picture of the various animals he depicts.


By working in this style, the Manchester-based artist, who works in both painting and sculpture, gives his audience creative licence to imprint some of their own biography onto works that oscillate between the deeply personal and the accessible - from pet pictures to still life compositions of fruits.

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Having previously been working in digital, it’s easy to see how the square-edged style that O’Donnell is best known for came to life. Opting to make the switch to painting, he has been able to imbue his work with a far more personal and human touch. The textural elements of his painted workmallows the audience a glimpse into the person behind the semi-obscured images, adding a layer of depth, creating a kind of cognitive dissonance between what we expect of his recognisable pixelated style (precise and manufactured) with what we get (uneven and expressionistic).


Part of his process, before the paint comes along, still remains digital. He takes a lot of time with the composition and, due to the nature of his work - which can be viewed as a part of a semi-structured framework whereby the artist applies colour and shape-orientated constraints upon each piece, the - digital is still optimal. Rather than binding him, the ability to constantly reconfigure is freeing. However, when it comes to the real-thing - O'Donnell has arrived at paint, allowing for a much more balanced and human outcome.


There’s a lot of still-life and a lot of animals. Subjects that draw O’Donnell in for different reasons. Naturally, the appeal of fruit and vegetables in still life comes from the contrasting shapes and colours. With animals, it’s a little different. More than composition, it’s expression. Animals are notoriously difficult subjects, unable to sit in the same way a human muse could, which means the hazily-defined style is perfectly suited to unpredictable sitters and leaving enough of a question mark over what exactly we're looking at to infuse each piece with a welcome sense of humour.

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Integrating something of the ‘awkward family photo’ into his paintings, which are quaint inasmuch as they bear more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned stitched pads that adorn many an elderly lady’s walls, his off-kilter humour, even verging on the surreal, in the sense that we could describe film director Wes Anderson as being so, feels at ease with the subject matter and style.


In animals and (sometimes) still-life and plants, O’Donnell has found solace in subject and process itself. By breaking down the digital barrier to create something in a more hands-on manner, the process becomes an integral part of the painting. The imperfections each carry their own story and it is those blemishes, those imperfect squared edges, where the true stories of his art unfold.

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