Featuring new work by Brendan O’Connell and Richard Thomas Scott
Opening Reception, January 25, 2019, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
"Bringing It All Back Home" explores the current state of American identity. What does it mean to be "American" today? Although Richard Scott and Brendan O’Connell share similar Southern roots and international backgrounds, they have different artistic approaches to examining America's identity crisis. Born in Tucker, Georgia, and now living in Cornwall, Connecticut, O'Connell is a Contemporary American artist well-known for his paintings of Walmart interiors. Born in Conyers, Georgia, and now living in Hudson, New York, Scott is an American figurative painter best known for asking tough questions about world events or societal injustices through provocative and sometimes controversial imagery.
In 2012, the two artists met at an open studio, and were surprised at their commonalities. Already, the two artists had followed their own exciting paths: O’Connell had been featured in the New Yorker, CBS Sunday Morning, and The Colbert Report. Scott had served as assistant to one of the most successful contemporary artists, Jeff Koons, and one of the greatest living Classical painters, Odd Nerdrum. Since their collaboration, both have landed their work in the permanent collections of several museums.
Beyond the immediate dissonance between their imagery, there is a surprising dialogue between these artists, a dialogue that explores the current divisions in American culture. Their upcoming show titled "Bringing It all Back Home" at Spalding Nix Fine Art, Atlanta, Georgia, addresses the current American identity crisis through the contrasting approaches of a Classical artist and a Contemporary artist.
Scott considers the contradictions of American identity through a historical lens. What separates Americans from our European ancestry is the promise of our highest ideals: that all men are created equal with "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yet, the constitution designated an entire population unequal, alienating slaves from the same “unalienable” rights. Scott reminds us that we must resist the urge to whitewash the past, that its inertia continues to mold our present. James Baldwin wrote:
History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. ... On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.
Scott comments on American identity through the tradition of the history painter, comparing the synchronicity between our current culture and that of our collective past.
“Regardless of our political or religious ideology, regardless of what we profess to believe, the truth of our faith is judged in how we treat each other in our individual lives,” says Scott. “The woman depicted in "Safe Harbor" confronts us with our own humanity. Her features may seem foreign to traditional white America, but this serves to remind us that we of European descent are also immigrants here. The ship in the background has seen a long and dangerous journey, as have we all, but having arrived upon new shores, we are illuminated by the possibilities ahead. We all have the freedom to decide our own destiny, and we can insure our own freedom by insuring the freedoms of others.”
O'Connell sees American identity as a mutable and bipolar personality. It is simultaneously cynical and optimistic. It is heavy and tragic, light and funny, black and white, completely open and accepting, and simultaneously exclusive and racist. O'Connell explores our American ethos through his observations of the relationship between identity and branding. Specifically, he explores the nature of the spaces where all these aspects collide.
“Wal-Mart is one of the most visited interior spaces in the world. It’s a quintessentially American space in how it serves as a physical meeting point between personal identities and brand identities. Where people shop and what they buy is an interesting insight into how they identify themselves.”
Tab Tennis Lady is my childhood growing up just outside of Atlanta, with all the internal and external aspirations that a Buckhead tennis mom represents,” says O’Connell. “The image suggests all the ease and leisure that an advertisement promises.”
With their varied artistic experiences, O'Connell and Scott observe the American Identity crisis through many lenses: local versus global, rural versus urban, North versus South.
Both Georgia natives living outside New York City, O’Connell and Scott grew up in conservative rural towns outside Atlanta now swallowed by metropolitan sprawl. Both have traveled and lived internationally, both were drawn to New York City, and finally settled in the Northeast. Their sense of identity has evolved in tandem with globalization.
Through years of painting together, O'Connell and Scott have developed an unexpected influence on each other, both on a technical and a conceptual level. Many of their works describe the collision between individual and collective identities, hoping to break barriers between our disparate world views, and our current conflicts over what is reality and what is fact, and, to do so, explore the ramifications of our current socio-economic and political forces.
While their artistic perspectives may be different, their observations and conclusions on American Identity are strikingly harmonious, which makes their unlikely collaboration so fascinating. "Bringing It All Back Home" opens January 25, 2019, at Spalding Nix Fine Art.