An artist's unlikely inspiration: Walmart - Daily Agenda - Atlanta Magazine

An artist's unlikely inspiration: Walmart

Brendan O'Connell has a single subject and a singular mission

Photograph by Jamie Thalman

Brendan O’Connell is painting bananas. Not particularly impressive specimens, either. They sit bunched and bruised beside his twelve-by-sixteen-inch canvas, which is balanced on a shopping cart at the front of a Walmart store in Tucker. Forty-five years old, a little scruffy, and wearing tattered jeans, O’Connell could be mistaken for a giddy house painter who, having inhaled a fume too many, wandered in by accident with his kid’s art supplies. But he’s here now, very intentionally doing what has made him rather famous—for a painter, anyway—over the past few years: turning Walmart’s brightly lit, multicolored, bargain-basement aisles into a source of high-art inspiration. He chats and laughs about life’s unpredictability while he paints, keeping an eye out for anyone who might know him; he grew up right around the corner.

O’Connell attended St. Pius X high school but didn’t get into art until after graduating from Emory. He was living in Paris then and, by his own admission, failing as a writer. Twenty years after cutting his teeth doing hasty portraits along the Seine, he has a painting on display at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, and one in its museum—making him the closest thing the largest retailer in the world has to a company artist. He’s been to hundreds of the stores over the past decade and set up his canvas or camera—often he paints using photographs—all over them.

He gestures around this one, which is 134,000 square feet and seven years old: “Check out those Duck Dynasty throw towels! You know we’re in the South.”

Behind him, a woman watches, whispering: “Is he . . . supposed to be here?”

This month he’ll be an artist-in-residence at his alma mater, Emory, capping off a string of 2013 successes that included a profile in the New Yorker and a spot on The Colbert Report. (“He went easy on me,” says O’Connell.) He’s certainly come a long way from getting booted out of Walmarts. When he started a decade ago, a sales associate would find him taking reference photos of Elmer’s Glue, Utz potato chips, or Wonder Bread, often with a model posing nearby. O’Connell would try to explain, but eventually he accepted the company policy: no cameras and no art without permission. One day he did an interview on NPR in which he mentioned being “thrown out of more Walmarts than most New Yorkers have ever visited.” Within the hour, a Walmart official called. They realized that O’Connell was one of the only cool things happening in their stores and gave him free rein.

“Every artist wants to be the Andy Warhol of their generation,” he says now, smiling. “But I’m the Bob Ross of mine.” The impressionistic bananas, which took perhaps an hour to paint, as shoppers filled their carts, will likely sell for two thousand bucks.

O’Connell has leveraged his acclaim and collector appeal to start the nonprofit, an arts education program that has staged massive collaborative art projects—a fusion of mass marketing and creativity that no doubt would appeal to both Sam Walton and Andy Warhol.

Bonus: Read the original, extended version of this article here.

This article originally appeared in our February 2014 issue under the headline "Big-box art."

Leave a comment:

showing all comments · Subscribe to comments
  1. rolex replica uk posted on 07/17/2014 10:42 PM
    Regretfully, this kind of louis vuitton replica handbags as well as higher regular has a comparable price, which makes it really beyond reach with regard to regular individuals who desire to personal the Chanel item. This particular drawback may be used through counterfeiters through surging the marketplace along with replicates, and it has triggered a few monetary reduction as well as introduced disrepute towards the exclusive title of the home associated with Chanel. Purses through custom homes such as replica burberry yet others happen to be an extremely appealing product in most female's clothing. Due to this po[censored] rity as well as wish, counterfeiters possess created the Chanel reproduction which is comparable to the initial style. A few of the reproduction Chanel purses happen to be created therefore nicely that's is becoming very hard in order to identify the actual variations between your unique and also the reproduction. Becoming probably the most purses may be the business, there are lots of ladies who've purchased these types of totes on the internet underneath the impact they have the fake hermes, whenever really exactly what they've is really a really wellchanel replicamade phony. Whilst real Chanel purses are manufactured from the best items along with unique treatment along with interest directed at high quality, design, fine detail, as well as rolex replica watches, the reproduction won't ever complement for this. These days, the actual produce associated with reproduction Chanel totes is actually of the high quality which makes it very hard to tell apart in between an authentic tote and also the fake 1. Nevertheless a lot this looks like the initial, you may be sure the cost you've compensated may by no means provide you with the fulfillment of getting the replica gucci bags replicalasting product.
showing all comments

Big Stories

The Atlanta Braves Relocation
Track the latest developments in the team's move from Turner Field to Cobb County.

 The Walking Dead
All things TWD—including our haiku recaps. (Warning: 17-syllable spoilers.)