Steven Michael O’Connor
Art is all about communication, so hopefully the themes or feelings that I cannot properly express with my paintings can come across in my writing about art. I’d like to start by saying a few things about the place where I spend my days and nights…my studio. The space is located right behind my apartment in Burbank, California about a half a block away from Warner Bros Studios on a stunning tree lined street. In Los Angeles this is important, because it means my commute is only about a 30-yard walk. Avoiding LA traffic is huge, but the real reason that it’s important is for the fact that I can get right to work anytime inspiration should strike. I can simply stop what I’m doing, walk to the studio, and get right to work. Dropping the dirty dishes to go sketch out a new idea, or literally waking up in the middle of the night to put another coat of paint down on a piece. The only downside to the proximity of my workspace is that you can never really turn it off. I’m very lucky that I truly love what I do for a living, so that isn’t really much of a burden.
The space, of course, has its downfalls. It’s hot in the summertime and can get very cold in the winter. It lacks natural lighting and the floor is so layered with paint that the legs of my worktables rest unevenly on the floor. However those setbacks are few and far between and the fact I have no boss or set hours are the type of things that add to the vigor of having such a creative career.
My studio is my quiet place for contemplation, especially in the early morning. Its difficult for me to express just how important this facet of the studio is to me. As an artist, to have a place where I can think about my work and the labor it involves in privacy is paramount. The first thing that I do every morning is get dressed and head out to my studio, coffee in hand, and review the day of work that’s ahead of me…taking the time to critique and explore my process in various contextual settings. This is the staging ground for all of my trial and error. I’ve seen great successes and been dealt devastating setbacks all in the dimly lit converted garage space.
A good portion of the work that I perform in the studio is manual labor. Hammering, sawing, heavy lifting and assembling of large canvases…every wood frame canvas that I paint on, I hand craft in the studio. The image of a beret-wearing artist, smoking cigarettes and complaining about society is shattered by anyone who watches more than five minutes of a real painter working. This is a place that seemingly dissembles people’s stereotypes about “lazy artist.” At any given time there are 10-15 paintings in various stages of progress…that number can double the month before a show or drop to low single digits during trying pieces that demand more of my time and attention. Before a big show the space is typically packed to the brim, putting a wet piece in the drying rack and starting the next step on another piece. When I step back sometimes it can remind one of working in a busy kitchen, with multiple dishes cooking at various speeds. The more successful I’ve become, the easier it’s been to slow down the ‘kitchen’ and focus my energy into just a handful of pieces. That allows me to accomplish a more layered narrative from my paintings. I think that it’s important to avoid becoming so kind of makeshift art factory, pumping out art like widgets. I spend a lot of time on my pieces, but never sitting idly by while something dries. Momentum is crucial, and for me creativity seems to come in waves, so I surf that wave until the board breaks.
There is no way around it…to be a real dynamic artist you have to put in the work. Long hours are spent in the studio. My typical work day starts at 5:00am and stretches until 8-9pm at night. That includes weekends and most small holidays. So I spend the majority of my time in the studio. The type of art that resonates with me is the type that isn’t strictly based on aesthetics. It’s important for my artwork to contain a message for the viewer. Those narratives demand a certain dedication from the artist, not just in the painting process but also when dealing with the research that most pieces demand.
As far as studio visits are concerned, it is by appointment only. The gallery space on Beverly Blvd. In West Hollywood is where the majority of my visits are held…simply because that is where the lions share of my work is displayed. However the studio is open to more curious patrons, and serious collectors who are interested in viewing my process. The studio is a great place to catch a glimpse of the newest work that I am generating before it goes up on display. Dropping by can be a fantastic way to decide/work out the details of a commission or just see things that may be still ‘works in progress.’
When I started as an artist full time four years ago, I was painting in my living room. So much has changed in that short time period; it certainly has made me appreciate my workspace. Would I like more room to work? Of course…but it is truly a comforting space where I am constantly pushing myself and creating new things.