An interview of artist Michael O’Briant



 Describe this new work and its origins.

I began focusing on nature and abstractions of natural themes four or  five years ago.  More recently, I began painting abstract forest  scenes from my imagination.  At the same time, I had been admiring the  use of gold leaf and gold paint — from medieval chapel ceilings,  illuminated manuscripts and even more contemporary work.  But it was  always used sparingly, as an accent, and I wanted to use the gold in a  bolder way than that… making it the subject of the painting.  Its  reflective qualities – the way it glows, its warmth – it’s almost like  a bonfire or a fireplace.  It can bring back childhood memories of  warmth, sitting around the fireplace with your family, having a  bonfire with friends.  And I love the way these paintings change  throughout the day, along with the light of the room.  The way it  looks in the morning, with sunlight streaming through a window… the  way it changes when the lights are switched on.  My favorite surprise  is when you turn the lights down… and suddenly the painting takes on  an entirely new quality – as the gold reflects the remaining light,  the foreground becomes the background and the background becomes the foreground.  It’s a completely different painting.


 Talk about the gold leaf.

I bought a gold leaf kit but had no intention of being confined by the instruction manual.

I didn’t want it to be traditional.  I wasn’t as  concerned with the craft of gold leafing — I wanted to explore its  possibilities as a medium.  From my experimenting, I discovered I 

could tarnish and oxidize the surface in a very controlled way.  I  liked the destruction and decomposition of the shiny, perfect  surface.  Think about what gold symbolizes – money, power, wealth.  The parallels to today’s economic struggles were impossible to miss.   When I manipulated the gold’s surface, giving it layers and depth, I  also felt the meanings of the paintings begin to grow and reveal  themselves.


 Where do the dots, lines and shapes in the paintings come from?

It started as merely organic mark-making – total abstraction. But the  more I did this, the more I began noticing the marks were reminiscent  of animal and plant structures, as well as ancient patterns.  I  started looking at images of Maori tattoo art, ancient Irish symbols  and even photographs from archaeological digs.  I began seeking out  these images as my marks were revealing rhythms that felt familiar in  me.


 paintings You’re an artist in constant motion, always developing new ideas.  Where are you headed next?

 The reaction to this work has been really positive.  People are drawn  to these paintings in a very deep and emotional way.  I think that  speaks to the warmth of the reflective light — and the abstracted  ancient themes.  I think we’re subconsciously drawn to nature and 

symbols.  All of us feel a connection to primitive expressions of  humanity. I’m still in the midst of exploring all of this, discovering  new possibilities.  Right now, I’m thinking about working in an even  larger scale… and perhaps diptychs and triptychs.


Photo: By Jolanta Pawlak:

thomas masters gallery

245 west north ave, chicago; 312 440 2322


During the exhibition of painting at Thomas Masters Gallery.