Painter Brendan O’Connell is featured in the current (February 11) issue of The New Yorker in a piece by Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief. O’Connell says he grew up in Tucker, Georgia, although in this New Yorker piece it is referred to as “Atlanta.” He lists a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Emory.
The hook for Orlean’s story, titled “Walart: A Career Epiphany in a Supermarket,” is that O’Connell paints scenes inside Walmarts. He loves the colors of products lined up in the aisles, and the sense that Walmarts are an important social meeting place comparable to the ancient markets of Europe.
You can see samples of O’Connell’s “Walmart Series” at http://www.brendanoconnell.com .
I have questions.
Walmart, surely, is not the only place, even in rural America, where colorful products and chance social encounters are on display. Why does O’Connell return again and again to Walmart? Orlean believes it safe to say that O’Connell has visited more Walmarts than anyone who doesn’t work for the company.
He claims to be neither an apologist nor a defender of Walmart, which has come under attack for everything from its labor practices to its environmental policies. Yet he argues on his website that “Walmart is the most visited interior architecture on the planet, and it is quite possibly the most democratic.”
Let us not pre-judge, but for all his claimed neutrality on Walmart politics, you have to wonder about the possibility that an artist could borrow upon a super-retail brand for the advancement of his work.
Another question: Was his suburban Atlanta background a factor in his adoration of big-box retail? Unfortunately, Orlean did not press the artist on this urgent issue. Did she even visit Tucker? Did she call? Did she e-mail?
O’Connell no longer lives in Tucker, and we don’t know how often he returns to visit. According to O’Connell’s website, he has shown his work at galleries in Atlanta, but it has been awhile (Reinike Gallery, 2001). Next time he comes to Atlanta, let’s take him to American Chainsaw & 2-Cycle. It’s right there in Tucker’s zip code.