Artist makes a comeback
After years out of the mainstream, a leading Glasgow artist is making a comeback – with the help of the internet.
HE is perhaps best known for hiring and painting out of a police cell in Calton, Glasgow, for years – cutting himself off from the rest of the world to work on his art.
Later, Scottish artist Joe O’brien took his chance with galleries which paid off and allowed him to showcase his talent. “I came down from the mountain, away from the jail and thought ‘I’m going to risk rejection’ and go into galleries.
“Lo and behold galleries picked up on me and started selling my paintings.”
Now, he is making a comeback after five years away from the mainstream and is embracing technology.
The 56-year-old self-taught painter has decided now is the perfect time to take his work online.
With the encouragement of a friend, he has recently launched his own website. Joe describes his work as “symbolist or surreal” and admits that it does not hang comfortably in everyone’s living room.
He took the decision to remove himself from galleries when they tried to get him to change his art and “paint less noses and more cottages”.
Working from a small studio on Alexandra Parade in Glasgow’s east end, he has decided to sell to the wider public again to “sustain his creativity and keep up processing the journey and storytelling”.
“An agent picked me up and some paintings sold to Scottish celebrities – Michelle Mone and Muriel Gray – I was delighted with that,” he says of his initial big break.
“It kept me in house and home but then I had a kind of crisis of confidence where galleries were concerned because they were starting to try and shape my way of painting.
“The paintings were selling but they were saying ‘we can sell more of them if you paint less noses and more cottages’.”
Laughing, he insists he has no problem with paintings of cottages, but it just isn’t his style.
“I don’t paint comfortable art, I don’t paint art that generally speaking sits well above the sofa.
“Although, what is an absolute delight is that children seem to love them. On the one hand galleries were implying the paintings might frighten children and on the other hand I was finding children, young people and lots of adults were delighted with them. I built up a core following of people who for whatever reason love my work and kept buying them.
“But, I became disillusioned with galleries and withdrew.”
However, it was important to keep working in the background.
He says: “My paintings are interesting to me first and foremost and that keeps me painting and they are interesting to that core group of followers – that allowed me to withdraw from galleries.
“What was keeping me going was private commission and private sales. That was a fantastic feeling that people want to buy my art.”
He feels now is the right time to explore a new avenue to sell his work and keep him motivated.
“Recently, a friend who wanted to work with me for some time and is very supportive recommended internet, online sales, the whole shebang and I said, ‘I think the time is perfect’,” he says.
“The website has now been launched. I’m not a total dinosaur with the computer but note overly well versed in it.
“I think it’s going to be a very useful way of me being able to sustain my creativity, keep up processing storytelling and getting my art out to people who might appreciate it.
“I don’t want to alienate galleries but I lost a lot of faith in some of them at least and this is a better way for me to acquire some kind of control over what I’m doing and that leads in to why I’m doing it as well.”“i’ve got one life.”
Joe spends as much time as he can in his studio overlooking Alexandra
Parade in Glasgow’s east end.
He says: “I come in here as often as I can, if the mood takes me I can get off a bus from Maryhill or even walk it.“there’s times I’ve walked when I’m feeling the urge to batter away on a big painting - or a wee one, or think that face needs another nose.“i’m self taught, I’ve got loads of pals that went to art school. I did consider doing that but I’ve had friends tell me that in their opinion
They wanted me to paint less noses and more cottages
Artist Joe O’brien with his artwork in his Glasgow studio. He says: ‘I don’t paint comfortable art.’
His distinctive art is now being showcased online.
One of Joe’s pieces with the typically large nose style.