Justin Liam O’Brien

Paintings by Justin Liam O’Brien

Born in Flushing, New York in 1991, Justin Liam O’Brien is a painter and digital artist. In his early years, he was interested in drawing concept art, graphic novels, and modeling video games, whose construction became a serious occupation until his early twenties. After attending Long Island’s Suffolk County Community College, O’Brien earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Arts and 3D Animation from the Pratt Institute in 2016.

In 2017, O’Brien started producing paintings with figurative elements and gradually developed a style which combined his skills at animation with his identity as a queer person. Impressed by the works of Diego Rivera and Leger, O’Brien strived to achieve their simplicity in his early figurative paintings; his focus gradually changed to more complex, narrative works which expressed his personal life and relationships. With his technical painting skill, O’Brien is able to express an exploration of issues centered on a very clear, delineated community of people.

Justin Liam O’Brien’s figurative paintings emerge from his experiences of queer affection, tenderness, longing, and loneliness. The male figures are archetypal, fashioned with soft edges and placed in carefully crafted tableaux, which reflect his technical training in the digital arts. While drawing on personal experiences, O’Brien portrays universal, relatable narratives, often tinged with tension or poignancy, that speak to our feelings of self-doubt and powerlessness. Through these visual communications, he hopes to clarify to its viewers our shared experiences and feelings, and in this way strengthen the communal bond.

In November of 2019, O’Brien had his debut solo exhibition, entitled “Losing in the Form of Darkness”, at New York’s Monya Rowe Gallery on West 30th Street. The figurative compositions in this show depicted unidentified male characters, with blurred features, engaged solitarily or entangled in moments of leisure and passion, as well as, boredom and loneliness. In conjunction with the exhibition, O’Brien developed a book of sketches, executed in the previous year, which contained a more personal side of his work. 

In May of 2020, Justin Liam O’Brien left his position as a 3D modeler for a real estate company and began to concentrate full time on his studio painting. He exhibited his paintings in two shows that year. The first was entitled “Damned by the Rainbow” and was held in July at the GNYP Gallery in Berlin; the title of this show was suggested by a verse from French poet Arthur Rimbaud. The exhibited work reflected O’Brien’s exploration of intimacy and the emotions that emerge in shared personal space. 

In November of 2020, O’Brien’s solo show “When Acting as a Wave” opened at Los Angeles’s Richard Heller Gallery. His paintings frequently examine the effects of being close to people, which can be wonderful or terrible depending on circumstances. O’Brien’s paintings in this show, executed during the period of covid quarantine and isolation,  showed these opposing feelings at their balance point. His 2020 “Bread on a Seder Plate” shows a gathering of friends with a lone figure almost blending into the wall.  Another painting in the show, “I’m Afraid of How This Ends”, shows a room, suggestive of a prison cell, with two figures together, each alone except for the other, with seemingly no means of escape.

In September of 2021, Justin Liam O’Brien returned to the Monya Rowe Gallery for an exhibition entitled “Dreams”, the centerpiece of which was a large canvas, “NYC Inferno”, an ode to a sex party in Brooklyn, New York. Other works in the exhibition derived from references in queer cinema and literature, and the religious art of Italian Early-Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca. O’Brien’s other 2021 shows at the gallery included “Me, Myself and I” and “Equal Affections”.

O’Brien’s works have been exhibited in many group exhibitions including presentations at Galerie LJ in Paris; Chart Gallery and the High Line Nine, both galleries in New York City; the contemporary Kapp Kapp Gallery in Philadelphia; and Galerie Tanja Wagner in Berlin, among others.

“I had been damned by the rainbow. Happiness was my fatality, my remorse, my worm: my life would forever be too immense to be devoted to strength and beauty.”

– Arthur Rimbaud, Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell), 1873

Notes: More images and information on Justin Liam O’Brien’s work can be found at the artist’s site located at: http://justinliamobrien.com

Justin Liam O’Brien’s sketchbook “Losing in the Form of Darkness”, which was published in conjunction of his exhibition of the same name, can be found at the online Raw Meat Collective located at: https://rawmeatcollective.com/shop/losing-in-the-form-of-darkness-by-justin-liam-obrien

Top Insert Image: Laura June Kirsch, “Justin Liam O’Brien”, 2020, Juxtapoz Magazine

Second Insert Image: James Liam O’Brien, “Fais Comme Si J’Avais Pris La Mer”, 2021, Oil on Linen, 175 x 139.7 cm, Private Collection

Third Insert Image: Justin Liam O’Brien, “Stay in My Arms, If You Dare?, 2018, Oil on Canvas, Monya Rowe Gallery

Bottom Insert Image: Justin Liam O’Brien, “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves”, 2021, Oil on Linen, 152.4 x 152.4 cm, Monya Rowe Gallery

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