Rachel O’Donnell: 2019 Grant Winner
Rachel O’Donnell was born in Dallas, TX and attended a performing arts school where she studied ballet and contemporary dance. “That's kind of where I thought my creative path was going. Then I ended up taking art classes and really enjoyed it. I had a teacher who said I should pursue this on a professional level.”
O’Donnell followed her teacher’s advice and attended the Pratt Institute in New York where she began to show her work with friends and other Pratt alumni before relocating to Los Angeles four years ago.
“I've always been very creative and it’s expressed itself in many different ways,” says O’Donnell. “But at the moment, I’m exploring it through collage and painting and photography.”
“The best thing about being an artist is kind of responsible selfishness.”
When asked when she first felt like she could be an artist for a living, she shared, “I never really thought about it in terms of – oh, I'll become a rich and famous artist. I think I pretty much decided that I probably wouldn’t have money from a very young age because I wanted to do ballet…so there was never any kind of flashes of stardom. I think it was more like – I need to do this. I just felt a compulsion to do it and explore it. I was that person in high school who spent my Saturdays at a local fashion school taking sewing classes. I think I've always just felt the need to do it.”
On the process
“It's funny, you go to art school and you're taught that there is a specific process. They tried to teach a scientific method of creating a painting and that is not at all how I work anymore. I have a series that I'm almost done wrapping up. It's my Texas series. Right now, a lot of artists are thinking about what it means to be an American in this specific climate and then how do I fit into this and how universal identities are, how stereotypes kind of affect people's existence, the power of culture and how it shows our limitations.
“I think the purpose of art is to start a conversation.”
O’Donnell considers the question about what she’d like to say with her art. “I think it’s a really interesting time to be an artist. I think the purpose of art is to start a conversation, not to offer concrete solutions. We're not going to solve poverty with one painting. We can't approach art as didactic, ‘Art means this and it will do this to the world.’ It's hard because art is such an individualized experience…It's important to make work because you need to say ‘I'm here. I'm holding space. What I have to say matters, and it should be considered.’
“Right now, people are telling artists what they should be painting and I don't think that's fair or correct. In my work, I make a big point of using pink. Part of that is not only because I like the color and my hair is also pink – but it's such an emotive color. But people think – oh, that's for little girls stuff.’ Ultimately, we do uphold more masculine art with darker colors and metals and things have a much more masculine, visual kind of language. So I think for me, just by using pink, I'm trying to say there is difference, but there's still equality in that difference.”
“They paint ideas and you paint feelings.”
“One of my friends told me ‘they paint ideas and you paint feelings.’ A lot of my work is very emotional. So much of art in fashion visual stuff is nihilist and ‘I don't want to feel anything and F-U to emotions and being a human.’ But for me, I want to make work that makes you think about something differently and to feel something unexpected.
“My portraits are usually women and a lot of them tend to be monstrous and powerful. There's a feeling of reliability and humaneness to them. It's important to think about things differently and see a nuanced idea of a female in art.”
The subject of favorite vices as a means to find the inspiration elicits a laugh from O’Donnell. “The ones that are legal? Because my parents are still alive.” O’Donnell finds that consuming art in all possible forms, watching movies, and traveling helps reignite the passion when it wanes. “One of my favorite cities is New Orleans and every time I come back from there, I’m painting afterward. So just kind of exploring and being somewhere else is really helpful for me physically, but I think a lot of it is just playing around.
“Chuck Close said that ‘inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just [show up] and get to work.’ I think there is truth in that.
On Winning the Not Real Art Grant
“Honestly, I thought it was spam mail. I applied to a lot of grants. I think the subject line was ‘Congratulations, you're a winner.’ What did I win? Three days at the Marriott? So the cynicism was there but then I was just really honored and excited. It is validating to feel like someone thinks what I'm doing matters…And they really want to help create a community and teach people and show the work of the artists and promote art outside the white wall galleries, which is really cool.”
The Best Thing About Being an Artist
“I saw this funny tweet where Art says, ‘Yeah, I ruined your life, but wasn't it fun?’ I mean, yeah, I have no money and sometimes I get stressed out trying to complete things, but overall – I love it. I've made certain decisions so that I can live this life and every decision has consequences, whether it's positive or negative. But for me, it's the right choice. Right now, I'm hanging out in my art studio with Bobby, my little brown bunny hopping around. There is real responsibility but I think being an artist is kind of responsible selfishness.”