Andrew O’Brien left a comfortable corporate career to finally become a full-time artist and to say his brave decision has paid off would be an understatement. You may have admired his work on the cover of the current Real Living magazine or in the background of pictures of the Danish Royal visit to furniture store Corporate Culture late last year.
I spoke to Andrew about the relationship between art and interiors and how to go about choosing artwork, something many struggle with.
Andrew says the relationship between art and interiors is interesting, complex and often trivialised. “Art influences interior design, fundamentally and in wholesale ways. Historically, think of the modernist movement in architecture and furniture which derives its genesis from visual art which was in turn the first to link sociological and philosophical changes from theoreticians like Kant. History is littered with how art has influenced interior design and architecture, but the question is why? Well, on the most basic measure, colour, pattern and subject matter tell us about how we fit into our larger community, they offer the viewer a perpetual cognitive self reference. Art talks to composition, beauty and balance; these are things that drive great design and have always been core to interior design.”
Should you ever choose a painting that matches your room’s colour scheme? “Yes absolutely, often understanding colour is the first step in the language of art. It is the most accessible point of discovery,” says Andrew. “Colour is such an important part of cognitive engagement with the world, it defines emotion and shapes perception. Colour tells us about how to act, how to be and who to be with. It has great powers of influence that by and large we take for granted. After time, most rooms change their colour schemes and decor, but often the paintings remain and process of engagement with the art begins again.”
His commercial background and the snobbery that comes with many art galleries led Andrew to instead partner with high-end furniture store Corporate Culture, where his work is displayed and sold. “It is about pairing great furniture and design with the art. It makes someone’s journey into art easier and without condescension. It also showcases the work beautifully and in a manner unlike any other gallery space.”
When the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark visited Corporate Culture to present managing director Richard Munao with an export award in Melbourne in November, Andrew’s work ended up being the backdrop for the official photos. “It was a great honour,” he says. “I had completed another work for the same shot, however it was rejected and this work was completed in some haste. Princess Mary was in a white suit, and the painting was still wet. At times she was a little too close to the painting!”
The big question: how to choose art? Simply go for what you like, what you think is “in” or something by the artist du jour? None of the above. “Art should be chosen physically and in context to the work. You should attempt to spend some quiet time with the piece and see how your senses engage with it.”
Andrew, who is inspired by the expressionist movement of the mid 20th century, advises against asking anyone else’s opinion. “It generally takes the decision away from the interaction of the art to the relationship dynamic between the person and opinion provider. Find the truth of the work for you. Does it make you happy, joyous? Does it calm you? Is the picture in harmony and well balanced? Does the work provoke you?”
Although he doesn’t regret his decision, Andrew says being an artist is challenging. “Self interested businesspeople, collectors and curators highly commodify artists with a proprietary hold on their ability to reach people interested in enjoying art. Been intimidated walking into a private gallery? Wondered why public institutions are so freely criticised by contemporary artists? Then you may get a sense of how the art world is a closed shop, usurped by those that benefit often at the expense of the artist,” he says. “It is this environment thats makes it so very hard for artists to make the move full time. I had to think differently about how I marketed my art. Once I had an idea that I could do something differently I think I was able to make the leap of faith with greater confidence.”
He says his work is about exploring the nature of the human condition and he is interested in works that activate primitive emotions. “I paint many highly repetitious layers and forms in a very deliberate and formalist manner. Over time these layers are painted out and the subsequent layers become much more subconscious and often gestural. To me, the painting’s completion is about seeking the pleasure in the painting without the formalist battle of dealing with objects and colour in space. I want my works to reward over time, with a power for the viewer to connect emotionally.”
Find out more about Andrew at his website.
Photography by Julian Kingma.