Artist- Stephen O'Donnell paints in what would have been the dining room of his charming 3rd floor walk-up in Portland's Nob Hill neighborhood. He shares the bohemian digs with his wife, writer- Gigi Little & his canine- Nikki.
I discovered Stephen O’Donnell’s astonishing paintings at a local gallery in my first month of living in Portland. I returned a few days later with The Husband in tow. The Husband was simply jaw-dropped in awe of the paintings. He would later design a penthouse bedroom for Portland’s Street Of Dreams around one of those paintings.
The Husband calls me out as a star fucker, with more than a little bit of truth, I own up to being undeniably attracted to people who possess unique, world class talents. I strive to be sly & undemonstrative in their presence, but I will end up gushing at some point.
As I sat opposite Stephen O’Donnell in a Nob Hill café, on a rainy, late spring afternoon, I attempted to engage the artist in regular guy conversation as my mind raced along with an inner-dialogue of: “Oh my, I am talking to my favorite painter in the world! I think I know him well from his masterful paintings, but I know so little about Stephen, I am looking right at him. He has freckles! He is so tall, masculine & sure of himself…”
During the chatty visit, I learn that O’Donnell has strong Portland roots, both of his parents grew up here, but he grew up all over California, including a stint as a singer in San Francisco.
O’Donnell told me of always identifying as an artist, drawing since early childhood, but never really dared to live his avocation until his late 30s, when O’Donnell in a grand jete of daring, showed some of his paintings to a Portland Gallery & promptly was given a show.
O’Donnell has no formal training & astonishingly, as a self-taught painter he possesses a sure hand with assured adroitness, clever command & fine, fanciful finesse.
O’Donnell paints in the genre of Portrait Historié, which is characterized by a recognizable subject, depicted in historic or mythological guise, such as a monarch, military leader, wealthy merchant, clergy or actor. His work is strictly portraiture, usually self- portraits, but not literal self-portraits. O’Donnell does not use photographic studies or even a mirror. He does extensive research & then reimagines the costumes & the settings. He is most often depicted in women’s finery of his own imagining, in a castle, chateau or citadel of his own design.
His paintings are masterfully mysterious, witty, gender confused pieces, with the artist’s beard line apparent & his chest hair visible above the brocade of the gown. O’Donnell: “More often than not, I represent myself in women’s costume. The female side of my personality is very developed, so it feels very natural to go with female costume, which is usually the most elaborate, the most picturesque. & it’s also usually the most fun.”
O’Donnell’s pretty & charming wife, the Portland writer- Gigi Little, told The Husband that the details of threads, feathers, fabric & metallic elements that we admired do much, are audaciously technical, masterfully achieved with a brush with a single tiny hair.
O’Donnell’s current solo show- Des Jeux Sérieux de Beauté can be seen through August at Winston Wachter Fine Art gallery in Seattle. A Portland show will be available for viewing in Autumn 2012 at Froelick Gallery.
I am so shallow, I now claim Stephen O'Donnell as "my favorite painter & good close personal friend." My first lottery winnings will be spent on an original O’Donnell to hang at Post Apocalyptic Bohemia.
Images used with permission from the artist