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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Colleen O'Brien, Artist Our Coverage Sponsored by Maine Woolens

Colleen O'Brien

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Colleen O’Brien has had a lifetime of art production, teaching and writing. Brought up in a large family in Vancouver, Canada, and upstate New York, she has always traveled, observing and drawing her surroundings and the people around her. She married young, had four children, and then finally had the opportunity for the formal education which was always in her mind, after her fourth child was in Grade One. She began the journey towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master’s Degree in Art Education, both at Canadian Universities.

But before that, she got her pilot’s license and supported her husband, who decided to leave teaching High School and form an Aviation Company, which he and her son are still operating 45 years later. All her children, and now her grandchildren have (or are getting) their pilot’s licences.

During this time she did sessional teaching in the art department of the local College, and later at local Universities.  
In the early 1990’s, newly divorced, she went to China to teach English, and paint. 
A total of 3 years of teaching English in China (DaQing, Wuhan and Zhoushan) awakened her love of travel.

Now she would combine painting, writing and traveling! The writing has included travel stories and biography. Some of the destinations have been Finland, the Greek Islands, Italy, The Camino in Northern Spain, Spanish Language School in Barcelona,St. Maarten, Antigua in Guatemala, USA, Australia, Cuba, Dubai in the UAE, Mexico, Morocco and Canadian travels including Yukon and Queen Charlotte Island.

In 2008-2009 she opened “Colleen O’Brien Gallery” in downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In 2009 she was invited to give a lecture on Canadian Culture at Zhejiang Ocean University in Zhoushan, Zhejiang Province, China.  
In 2010 her work was presented during the Olympics at The Federation of Canadian Artists Gallery on Granville Island, Vancouver BC.  
All of these adventures have contributed to a full and exciting life, and many opportunities to sketch and paint in exotic locales. 
She is heading to Ireland to be Artist in Residence in Ireland, at the Burren College of Art, near Galway. 
Achieving a lifetime goal of being in a commercial gallery was achieved in 2013 when the Collectors Gallery of Art began handling her paintings.

Her work is in many private and corporate international collections.  
This international artist will continue to fulfill the Artist in Residence portion of her life journey in private homes, painting landscape, portrait or still life subjects. Look at her website, where some of her many beautiful works are displayed. A future residency will be in Yukon Canada. Travel and Paint, that's her motto! We are so pleased to present Colleen O'Brien as our latest Mover and Shaker. Peachy Deegan interviewed Colleen for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: 
What is your first art memory?
Colleen O'Brien: 
In Mamaroneck, New York, I was a little girl hesitantly looking into an art gallery on my way to the library. I saw a beautiful full length (mostly grey) portrait of a boy. I went home and drew my brother on the back of an envelope, and it looked like him!

What paintings are you the proudest of and why?
I am most proud of my latest paintings, subjects: people, places, things. 1. a child on a beach collecting shells. 2. a beautiful colorful part of a garden in Morocco. 3. a black teapot, study in black and white. They are on twitter, @colleensart.
Why? I didn’t think I could express the power of these images, I worked hard, yet I did not want to overwork the paintings. I did not socialize in my studio area, just went in every day, put on my earphones, and worked. And that process gave me the wonderful results I had hoped for!

What does being Irish mean to you?
I have a sense of ancestors, and history. For example Brian Boru, the first person to use the surname O’Brian (meaning son of Brian) died in Ireland 1000 years ago, defending the island from invaders.

What about Ireland inspires you?
The stone, which was cleared, made into fences and homes, and over time, earth was added to the cleared areas so that people could grow crops. I love the green, the castles. I am looking forward to finding my vision as a painter in Ireland.

Are you a Vancouver Canucks or a Calgary Flames enthusiast and if so who have been your favorite players?
Oh my goodness, don’t mention hockey to a Canadian! My favorite player is Neil Little, former member of the Philadelphia Flyers NHL team, and now an International Scout for Philly He is my son!

What has surprised you the most about your travels?
It is simple, what surprised me most about my travels is that our earth is just as beautiful everywhere I go, and the people are ready for a smile or a laugh, embracing me wherever I go!

Where do you want to travel that you have not been to yet?
I want to go to South America, Dominican, Madagascar, Indonesia, the list is endless! 

Have you ever painted in an airplane?
I am painting in my brain and heart at all times, so, Yes, I have painted in an Airplane! Maybe not when I am the pilot, though.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
This question makes me want to cry. My old art teacher in New York, Miss Palmer. My mother, always brave. Her mother, an adventurer. 
My kids, I want to pursue excellence so that they can have a model. All my beloved people. 

What are you proudest of and why?
I am proud that I am a survivor. I am deeply affected by the world around me, and at my age many heartbreaking things have happened to me. Some of them have halted my art production. Not permanently, though!

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Really, I would like to have a large studio, living in one corner of it, and live with my paintings, huge ones, many of them, all in process.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
From childhood, I have been given awards for my work. Achieving a Master’s Degree has been a highlight. First Prize in the Federation of Canadian Artist show in Calgary was delightful. I have been asked to submit work in faculty shows, one person shows, group shows and charity events. These are awards to me. Any time I sell a work, I consider it an award.

What one word best describes you and why?
Observant. My eyes are strong, and useful, they inform me of the composition, values, colors, and sense of what is important to me.

What do you take your sense of identity from?
I take my sense of identity from my own personal history, the mistakes, the successes, the ongoing birthing of myself every day. 

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
Last time I was in Manhattan, I stopped at Carnegie Hall and bought tickets to a Master class which was the only concert on that evening. Unforgettable! I walked next door and went to The Russian Tea Room. Now that is my favorite place in Manhattan.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Does TKTS count?
And Ireland?
I am looking forward to Kenny’s Bookshop and Art Gallery.

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
Jane Goodall. She has a good spirit, and I would like to do her portrait.

What is your favorite drink?
Bailey’s Irish Cream in my coffee in the morning.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
I’ve never been to a cocktail party. Lots of openings, though!

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
The Russian Tea Room. I had High Tea (including caviar) and walked around looking at the amazing original art on the walls.
And Ireland?
I am looking forward to Ard Bia at Nimmo’s for some good seafood!

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? 
“Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin is my favorite Manhattan book! 

And Ireland?
Angela’s Ashes by Francis McCourt

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I really like being myself, however I might like to be Liza Minnelli or Barbra Streisand for a day. Dancing and Singing. With or Without an audience.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
I would like to have the building at 581 Fifth Avenue to be The Colleen O’Brien Gallery. This was the building where my Father opened an office for Canadian Pacific Airlines, in the 1950’s.

And Ireland?
A nice old castle with my name on it would be great. Perhaps I will find one!

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
Watching Hockey at MSG.
And Ireland?
A walk on the Burren?

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
I like to walk in the rain at dusk, feeling very much at home. I can peek into windows as I walk along the east side of Central Park, planning my next adventure in the Big Apple, or Peach as some call it.
And Ireland?
Artist in Residence at Burren College of Art.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
I would like to have dinner with Martha Stewart, I would like to ask her about her life. I am sure we would have a delicious meal!

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
When I lived in Plainview Long Island, I used take a train into Manhattan almost every weekend to a Broadway Musical. Every one of them was a masterpiece including Opera at the Met, and off Broadway Presentations. I was gluttonous.
And Ireland?
I am looking forward to my exhibition at the end of my Residency.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I raised four successful, educated, law abiding, creative, tax-paying citizens, my children.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan?
Most underrated in Manhattan is how safe and friendly it is, and you can’t overrate Manhatten!
And Ireland?
Most underrated in Ireland may be that it is small and easy to navigate, I’ll let you know....
Overrated in Ireland, perhaps the Blarney Stone.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it? 

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I have done my requisite 10,000 paintings and drawings.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?ted
I can be contacted by email:

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