Paintings of Walmart

Interview

Friday, August 02, 2013

When Brendan O’Connell set out to paint everyday life, he wanted to paint real everyday life. That is, he went shopping. And he found in America’s biggest big box store a source of artistic inspiration that’s lasted him a decade and counting. O’Connell has visited and photographed over three dozen Walmarts, painting hundreds of lush, impressionistic pictures of the products and people he finds in the stores’ aisles. Kurt Andersen joined O’Connell at a store in North Bergen, New Jersey.

O’Connell isn’t painting Walmarts as a critique of consumer culture. He wants his work to ask questions, not give answers. “If you leave it in the ambiguous zone where people take away what they want to take away from the image, it’s much more interesting than having an agenda or an ax to grind.” Andy Warhol’s consumer paintings have been an obvious influence, but O’Connell brings a warm, handmade quality that’s largely absent in Warhol’s work.

The paintings within O’Connell’s Walmart series vary greatly. Some pictures are spare, full of empty space, providing the viewer with a minimal amount of visual information. Others are much more detailed studies of the patterns and vibrant graphics found in rows of Jif peanut butter jars or bags of Cheetos. He notes that giving his work the specific focus of Walmart allows him to play more creatively with painting techniques — utilizing a variety of styles such as figurative, abstract, and actionist.

At its core, O’Connell’s work uncovers beauty in unlikely places and holds a generous mirror up to our everyday modern existence.

“Our attempt to find and construct beauty and order out of things, I think we always have that impulse," O’Connell says. "So, even this huge curated space that is disorienting, our eye wants to simplify and focus. Even if it’s unconscious, we want to experience beauty.”

 

Slideshow: Paintings from Brendan O’Connell’s Walmart series

Comments [7]

Terry McKenna from Dover NJ

Just noticed the comment about Warhol. Though he played a lot of games, in fact he was a brilliant draftsman, and a man with very well developed taste. Whether painting of soup cans should be valued, is one thing, but Warhol was the epitome of the trained/skilled artist.

Aug. 19 2013 07:25 AM
Roderick Flowers from texas

I don't know who told Warhol that he can paint or that he (was)artistic...I blame this type of degrading ideology for this type of garbage. And Wall Mart is a disgrace to the modern world...Shame on them

Aug. 04 2013 09:54 PM
Keira from walmart free nyc

It was only after Walton’s death, Mr. Packer says, “that the country began to understand what his company had done.” He writes: “Over the years, America had become more like Walmart. It had gotten cheap. Prices were lower, and wages were lower. There were fewer union factory jobs, and more part-time jobs as store greeters.” He adds: “The hollowing out of the heartland was good for the company’s bottom line.”

“Eventually six of the surviving Waltons,” the author writes, “would have as much money as the bottom 30 percent of Americans.”

—Excerpted from a NYT book review: A NATION IT'S SEAMS FRAYING,‘The Unwinding,’ by George Packer

By DWIGHT GARNER
Published: May 28, 2013

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/books/the-unwinding-by-george-packer.html?pagewanted=all

Aug. 04 2013 09:54 PM
Bob

Nice work. I love the expansiveness of Walmart; how I can wander from groceries into clothes without any hindrances. This is reflected in the giant painted crosswalks outisde the doors. It seems free and American. Crystal Bridges art museum was founded by Alice Walton.

Aug. 04 2013 06:43 PM
Mr. Spleeno from New York

I think the Walmart art is an interesting continuation of the Pop line-up, adding a new flavor of ennui to the built-in facet of this component of our everyday life and culture. I neither see it is as politically sanctioning the low-down of Walmart's policies (which perhaps as Steve says, it should pay more attention to), nor do I perceive it as good or bad art - so much as I see a continuation of the Pop aesthetic dating back to Warhol. If you go in for that sort of thing, you'll probably find value here. I personally do not go in for that aesthetic. Nevertheless, it's here with us, and has been for a very long time. As we decline, my curiosity prods me to ask: what (if anything) will replace or displace the Pop aesthetic, and will it have the power to save us in some culturally significant way?

Aug. 04 2013 11:43 AM
Steve from Arizona

If the artist is interested in showing a real view of America, he should focus on the thousands of American jobs at local businesses lost to the price-cutting, quality diminishing juggernaut that is Wal-Mart. They offer horrible insurance with minimum wages to its employees that pushes the envelope of slave labor. It is no coincidence that many communities deny Wal-Mart expansion into their neighborhoods. Companies such as Costco Wholesale are far better examples of companies that focus on bettering communities and employees. By portraying Wal-Mart in art as Americana and by shopping at such businesses, you are choosing to support this ideology.

Aug. 03 2013 05:41 PM
Terry McKenna from Dover NJ

Sorry, but the Walmart paintings are terrible art. If you don't see that, you have no visual sense.

Aug. 03 2013 04:20 PM

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